While little attention is paid to the thyroid, this gland plays an important part in some of your most basic body functions. If you notice that your thyroid gland is enlarged, there could be several disorders to blame. Although an enlarged thyroid may be nothing to worry about, it can also be the sign of a serious underlying issue and, as a result, is something that you should mention to your doctor.
Your thyroid gland controls your body's metabolic function. This gland secretes hormones that influence your body's feelings of hunger or satiation. Because of this tie to hunger levels, many thyroid conditions result in unexplained weight loss or gain.
Potential Enlargement Causes
When a thyroid gland enlarges to a visible level, the resulting lump is referred to as a goiter. In addition to being aesthetically unpleasant, this enlargement could be the sign of a serious health condition. An assortment of conditions can cause a thyroid enlargement. These conditions include hyperthyroidism, or the over functioning of the thyroid; hypothyroidism, the under functioning of the thyroid; and thyroid cancer. While an enlarged thyroid could be an indication of any of these potentially serious problems, it is not always cause for alarm. Some relatively benign problems, such as an iodine deficiency, can also lead to thyroid enlargement.
Both Graves' disease and Hashimoto's disease commonly manifest themselves in the appearance of an enlarged thyroid. When an individual suffers from Graves' disease, her immune system stimulates the thyroid gland, leading to excessive hormone production. In the presence of Hashimoto's disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid, causing a drop in thyroid hormone production. While both diseases can impact anyone, regardless of age or gender, they are more common among women between the ages of 20 and 40, reports The Hormone Foundation.
If your thyroid enlargement appears in conjunction with the birth of your child, postpartum thyroiditis is likely to blame. Postpartum thyroiditis occurs when the thyroid gland becomes inflamed after the birth of a child. Five percent of all new mothers will experience this condition in the months immediately following the birth of their children, reports The Hormone Foundation. In most cases, this condition clears up on its own. In some cases, however, it does not go away and results in the sufferer developing permanent hypothyroidism.
Thyroid Cancer Risks
In some cases, thyroid enlargement is a sign of thyroid cancer. It is important to remember that thyroid cancer is relatively uncommon. Fewer than 10 percent of thyroid inflammation cases are ultimately attributed to thyroid cancer, reports WebMD.