If you, or if someone you love has been diagnosed with thyroid nodules, then you probably have quite a few questions. What are thyroid nodules? What causes these nodules to develop? What are the symptoms of thyroid nodules, and how are they diagnosed? What if you’ve been advised that you need surgery for thyroid nodules? In this post, we’ll answer these common questions surrounding the issue of thyroid nodules.
About Thyroid Nodules
In a nutshell, thyroid nodules are lumps or growths found in the thyroid gland, which is located at the front portion of your neck. Your thyroid controls the way in which your body uses energy; if nodules are having an adverse effect, then you may need surgery. Sometimes, a thyroid nodule can cause excess thyroid hormone production; in this case, the remainder of the thyroid gland is suppressed and does not produce thyroid hormone at a normal rate. Sometimes, these nodules are cancerous, though more often than not, they are benign. In cases where cancer is present, surgery is an absolute must.
Thyroid Nodule Causes and Symptoms
The causes of thyroid nodules are not clear in many cases; people who have been exposed to excessive radiation are prone to nodules; in addition, this problem tends to run in families.
Often, thyroid nodules are very small, and they don’t cause a problem. Most people who have them are not aware that they even exist until they start to cause symptoms. Some thyroid nodule symptoms include:
- Swelling in the neck
- Pain in the throat
- A feeling of fullness in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Hyperthyroid symptoms, including nervousness, rapid pulse, excessive sweating, and rapid weight loss
- Hypothyroid symptoms, including depression, tiredness, dry skin, feelings of coldness, constipation, memory problems, and sluggish metabolism
Thyroid Nodule Diagnosis
Most people cannot feel their thyroid nodules, and if the nodules are asymptomatic, then it’s likely they won’t be discovered at all, unless they are causing problems. In some cases, doctors find thyroid nodules when conducting CT scans or ultrasounds for other diagnostic reasons. Thyroid testing is normally conducted to ensure the nodule is not cancerous, and to ensure that the thyroid is functioning properly. Some tests for thyroid nodules include:
- Blood tests – These tests check thyroid hormone levels.
- Thyroid scans – In this test, radioactive material and a camera checks thyroid function.
- Fine needle aspiration – A small piece of the nodule is aspirated via a tiny needle to check for the presence of cancer cells.
- Thyroid ultrasound – This test is done to locate the nodule, and to see its size, as well as to look for additional nodules.
Surgery for Thyroid Nodules
In some cases, thyroid nodules are benign and are not causing problems at all. In cases like this, you’ll be scheduled for further appointments, in which the nodule will be examined for changes indicating growth or malignancy. In other cases, especially if the thyroid nodule is very large or if it is causing difficulty with breathing or swallowing, surgical thyroid nodule removal is called for.
If your thyroid nodule is malignant, you will need to undergo thyroid surgery to remove it; in addition, you may need to be treated with radioactive iodine in order to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Thyroid surgery is also the best treatment for thyroid nodules which are suspected to be cancerous; and if you have ever received a radiation treatment focusing on the head, chest, or neck area, then you are at a greater risk for thyroid cancer and surgery for thyroid nodules will most likely be prescribed. The surgery is not a terribly complicated one, and recovery time tends to be short. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any concerns you may have surrounding thyroid nodules and thyroid surgery; he or she can provide answers specific to your personal situation.