Thyroid nodules are extremely common, although most people who develop them will be unaware of their presence.

For some however, thyroid nodules can be a sign of a serious health issue. What are thyroid nodules, and when should we be concerned about them enough to seek treatment?

Thyroid nodules are hard lumps which occur on the thyroid gland, behind the Adams apple and can contain fluid. They are often discovered during a medical exam, or when noticeable symptoms occur, like pain, discomfort in the throat, swelling, or difficulty swallowing or breathing.

Although most thyroid nodules are benign growths, others can affect thyroid hormone production (Thyroxine), or even develop into cancer. For this reason, it is important to take any changes in the thyroid seriously and seek treatment if necessary.

What are the symptoms of thyroid nodules?

One of the most common symptoms of thyroid nodules, is a slight swelling of the neck. This can also be caused by an enlarged thyroid (goiter) due to iodine deficiency. Other symptoms include pain in the throat area, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, or symptoms of hyperthyroidism; for example a racing heart, feeling over-stimulated or anxious, and difficulty sleeping. Sometimes, thyroid nodules can be felt by touching around the neck, where the thyroid is located.

When should I be concerned and seek treatment?

Although nodules on the thyroid or other parts of the body are common as we get older, it is important to seek medical advice if experiencing any pain, swelling, or difficulty breathing or swallowing.

To further investigate thyroid nodules, a specialist may perform an ultrasound which provides a visual reference of the thyroid and any abnormalities. Once thyroid nodules are identified, it is also common to follow this up with a biopsy, where a microscopic sample of the thyroid (cells) are taken and analyzed to see if the nodules are benign or potentially cancerous. If the cells are abnormal or cancerous, it is common to perform a thyroidectomy, which removes part of all of the thyroid gland.

The other common treatment is radioactive iodine therapy which effectively destroys the thyroid and also the cancerous nodules. These drastic procedures may be justified but will also require the individual to rely on an external source of thyroid hormone for the rest of their lives.

What are some of the ways to avoid or prevent thyroid nodules?

Keeping your thyroid in good health is the best way to avoid thyroid nodules. We can do this through eating a diet rich in selenium, zinc, and B vitamins like quality meats, nuts and vegetables. It is also very important for your thyroid to get enough iodine which can be naturally sourced from seaweed, sea salt, cod fish, dairy products, and eggs. Iodine can also be taken as a supplement.  It is also important to try and limit stress and environmental toxins as much as possible as these can adversely affect your thyroid function.