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What is an enlarged thyroid?

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An abnormally enlarged thyroid gland is a condition called goiter, which often results from low iodine levels or irregular production of thyroid hormones in the body, explains Mayo Clinic. It also occurs due to the development of nodules in the thyroid gland.

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The thyroid gland lies at the base of the neck and resembles the shape of a butterfly, says Mayo Clinic. Goiters are typically painless, but they can lead to coughing or difficulty in swallowing and breathing if they grow to a large size.

Small, unnoticeable goiters without significant symptoms usually do not require treatment, notes Mayo Clinic. Individuals with hypothyroidism may have to take thyroid hormone replacement medications, such as Levothroid or Synthroid, which relieve symptoms and reduce the size of the goiter by affecting the release of the thyroid-stimulating hormone from the pituitary gland.

An aspirin or corticosteroid medication typically helps ease inflammation of the thyroid gland, states Mayo Clinic. Patients with hyperthyroidism often take medications to normalize hormone levels. If the goiter causes problems with breathing or swallowing, doctors may recommend a partial or total thyroidectomy to remove portions of the thyroid gland or its entirety. Another possible treatment for an overactive thyroid gland is radioactive iodine, an oral medication that enters the bloodstream and travels to the thyroid gland to destroy thyroid cells.

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