when to worry about thyroid nodules

When to Worry About Thyroid Nodules

Thyroid nodules are lumps or “knots” in the thyroid gland, found during a physical exam or an imaging test. About one in 10 adults have at least one small nodule, and these nodules can range in size from too small to feel to larger than a walnut. In general, thyroid nodules are often non-cancerous, but it’s important to pay attention to changes in size, shape, and other clues that can help diagnose and treat underlying issues.

What Are Thyroid Nodules?

Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths in the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ at the base of your neck. The thyroid helps regulate the body’s metabolism.

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Nodules can be benign (non-cancerous) or cancerous. Depending on the size of the nodule, you may or may not be able to feel it.

When to Worry About Thyroid Nodules?

For many people thyroid nodules are ignored, as they are relatively common and often have no symptoms. However, it’s important to pay attention to changes in size, shape, and other clues that signal a problem.

  • Unexplained Weight Loss – Rapid and unexpected weight loss is often a signal for a larger problem. Unexplained weight loss could signal a thyroid condition.
  • Swelling – If a nodule is causing the thyroid to become swollen, this may need to be addressed by a healthcare provider.
  • Pain or Difficulty Swallowing – Pain in the neck that can be felt when your doctor performs a physical exam or difficulty swallowing could signal a serious health issue.
  • Hoarseness – If a nodule is large enough, it can cause hoarseness or a feeling of tightness in the throat.

How Are Thyroid Nodules Diagnosed?

If you have a thyroid nodule and your doctor is concerned, they may order additional testing, such as a thyroid ultrasound or biopsy. An ultrasound can help determine the size, shape and composition of the nodule.

A biopsy is a procedure where a sample of the nodule is removed and analyzed for cancer. During a biopsy, a doctor uses an ultrasound to help guide the needle and collect a sample of the tissue.

Thyroid Nodule Treatment Options

Once your doctor has diagnosed your thyroid nodule, they will discuss treatment options with you. Treatment may include:

  • Medications – If hormone levels are off, medications may be prescribed to regulate the thyroid’s function.
  • Surgery – If biopsy results show cancerous cells, or if a nodule is causing other symptoms, surgery may be necessary to remove the nodule.
  • Monitoring – In some cases, monitoring may be the best treatment. The nodule may be monitored over time to see if it changes in size.

If you have a thyroid nodule, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider to discuss potential treatments and to keep an eye out for changes in size or other symptoms that may signal a need for further testing.


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