A goitre (sometimes spelt "goiter") is an abnormal swelling of the thyroid gland that causes a lump to form in the throat.
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, just in front of the windpipe (trachea). It produces thyroid hormones, which help to regulate the body's metabolism (the process that turns food into energy).
The thyroid gland is not usually noticeable. However, if it swells it produces a lump in the throat known as a goitre.
The size of a goitre can vary from person to person. In most cases, the swelling is small and does not cause any symptoms. However, in more severe cases, the swelling can increase so dramatically that breathing and swallowing are affected.
Learn more in symptoms of goitre.
What causes a goitre?
Goitres can have several possible causes including:
- an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
- an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
- a lack of iodine (a trace mineral found in milk and fish) in the diet
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Treating a goitre
The treatment for goitres depends on the underlying cause. If the goitre is small and not causing any problems, a wait-and-see approach is usually recommended.
Other possible treatments include thyroid hormone replacement, dietary supplements and, in the most severe cases, surgery. Although most goitres are usually benign (non-cancerous) it is estimated that in 1 in 20 cases they may be a sign of thyroid cancer.
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Who is affected
Goitres are a common condition, affecting an estimated 4% to 7% of people. However, in most cases, the swelling is so small it can't be seen. Goitres are more common in women than men.