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Thyroid Nodules

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What are thyroid nodules?

Thyroid nodules are growths on your thyroid gland. Your thyroid makes hormones that help control your body temperature, heart rate, and growth. The hormones also control how fast your body uses food for energy. Some nodules are lumps of tissue, and others are filled with fluid.

What increases my risk for thyroid nodules?

A lack of iodine in the foods you eat is the most common cause of thyroid nodules. The following may increase your risk:

  • Autoimmune thyroid disorders, such as Hashimoto disease
  • Medical conditions, such as cancer, a thyroid infection, thyroid goiter, or a thyroid cyst
  • A family history of thyroid nodules or thyroid cancer
  • Pregnancy that causes your body to create more hormones
  • Past radiation treatment to your head or neck

What are the signs and symptoms of thyroid nodules?

A small nodule may have no signs or symptoms. As your nodule grows, you may be able to see a lump on your neck. A large nodule may press on your airway or neck veins and cause the following:

  • A cough or choking and hoarse voice
  • Flushed face and swollen neck or neck veins
  • Noisy, high-pitched breathing
  • Pain when you swallow or trouble swallowing
  • Trouble breathing when you lie down

How are thyroid nodules diagnosed?

  • Blood tests are done to check the level of thyroid hormones in your body. A blood test may also show if you have an autoimmune disease that caused your nodules.
  • An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your thyroid on a screen.
  • A fine-needle biopsy is done to get a tissue sample from your thyroid gland to be tested.

How are thyroid nodules treated?

  • Thyroid medicine is given to bring your thyroid hormone levels back to a normal range.
  • Radioactive iodine is given to damage cells in your thyroid gland and decrease the size of your nodules.
  • Laser ablation is done to make your nodules smaller. Ask for more information about laser ablation.
  • Surgery may be done to remove all or part of your thyroid gland. Surgery is done if your nodules are cancerous. Ask for more information about thyroid surgery.

What can I do to manage my thyroid nodules?

  • Eat iodine-rich foods. Examples include fish, seaweed, dairy products, eggs, beans, and lean meat. Iodized salt also contains iodine. You may need to use iodized table salt when you cook and season your food. Iodine may be added to bread or to your drinking water. Ask for a list of foods that contain iodine, and ask how much iodine you need each day.
  • Go to follow-up appointments. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a new cough that does not improve.
  • You begin choking or have new or increased trouble swallowing.
  • Your voice becomes hoarse.
  • You are losing weight without trying.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have sudden chest pain or trouble breathing.
  • Your symptoms worsen, even after you take your medicines.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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