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What do thyroid goiters look like?

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The visible sign of a thyroid goiter is swelling at the base of the throat, according to Mayo Clinic. Non-visible symptoms include coughing or hoarseness, a tight feeling in the throat and difficulty breathing or swallowing. Once the thyroid is large enough to be visible to others, medication or surgery is necessary to control the growth, according to Endocrine Web.

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A common cause of a goiter is iodine deficiency, although this is typically not the case in the United States or other developed countries, explains Mayo Clinic. Other causes include a thyroid that either produces too much or too little thyroid hormone, as is the case in Graves' Disease or Hashimoto's Disease, respectively. The development of nodules on the thyroid gland also can cause a goiter. Although these nodules are typically benign, they are sometimes malignant. Because the likelihood of thyroid nodules being cancerous is less than 5 percent, preventative removal of the thyroid is not warranted for most patients, according to Endocrine Web.

Thyroid medication is the usual treatment for small- or medium-sized goiters, states Endocrine Web. Medication doesn't shrink the gland but can prevent further growth. However, surgery is necessary if the goiter grows large enough to compress the windpipe, esophagus or blood vessels in the neck.

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