What is thyroid nodules?

Thyroid Nodules

Thyroid nodules: Overview

Thyroid nodules are growths or lumps in the thyroid gland. Your thyroid is in the front of your neck. It controls how your body uses energy.

You may have tests to see if the nodule is caused by cancer. Most nodules aren't cancer and don't cause problems. Many don't even need treatment.

If you do have cancer, it can usually be cured. Treatment will probably include surgery. You may also get radioactive iodine treatment. If your thyroid can't make thyroid hormone after treatment, you can take a pill every day to replace the hormone.

Thyroid nodule

Thyroid nodules are growths in the thyroid, a gland in the front of your neck. Most of them are harmless.

All or part of the thyroid gland may be removed if a nodule is cancer or if it causes problems with breathing or swallowing.

What are the symptoms of thyroid nodules?

Most thyroid nodules don't cause symptoms and are so small that you cannot feel them. If your thyroid nodule is large, your neck may be swollen or you may be able to feel the nodule. In rare cases, you may also feel pain in your throat or have a hard time swallowing or breathing.

How are thyroid nodules treated?

Your treatment will depend on how your thyroid nodule affects you. Many thyroid nodules don't need medical treatment.

Treatment options include:


This may be done if the nodule isn't causing symptoms and isn't cancerous. Your doctor may choose to check your thyroid nodule every 6 to 12 months for changes in size. Many noncancerous thyroid nodules stay the same size or shrink without treatment.

Radioactive iodine.

This usually comes in a liquid that you swallow. It may be used to destroy thyroid tissue if:

  • Your nodule makes too much thyroid hormone, causing hyperthyroidism.
  • You have several nodules (multinodular goiter) and surgery isn't a good idea because of other health problems you have.
  • You had surgery for cancer and need radioactive iodine to destroy any leftover cancer cells.

Hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) occurs in some people after they are treated with radioactive iodine for thyroid nodules. For this reason, your doctor will check your thyroid hormone levels regularly after you have this treatment.

Antithyroid pills.

Your doctor may have you take these pills. They can slow down hormone production if your nodule makes too much thyroid hormone.


You will need to have surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid gland if your nodule is so big that it makes it hard for you to breathe or swallow or if it's cancerous. Most thyroid nodules aren't cancerous.

Surgery may also help relieve symptoms if other treatments, such as draining a noncancerous nodule filled with fluid (cyst), haven't worked. And if you have a thyroid nodule that makes too much thyroid hormone, surgery may help. After surgery, you may need to take thyroid medicine for the rest of your life.

How are thyroid nodules diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks you have a thyroid nodule, the doctor will do a physical exam and ask you if you have symptoms. You may have blood tests and imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, to see how well your thyroid is working. You may have a test to check the nodule for cancer.

How are medicines used to treat thyroid nodules?

Radioactive iodine is sometimes used to treat hyperthyroidism in people who have noncancerous thyroid nodules. If a noncancerous nodule produces too much thyroid hormone and causes hyperthyroidism, antithyroid medicines may be used before radioactive iodine. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) suppression therapy may be given to shrink noncancerous thyroid nodules.

How can you care for yourself when you have thyroid nodules?

Many thyroid nodules don't need medical treatment, and most thyroid nodules aren't cancer. If you have a thyroid nodule that is being watched, schedule regular checkups to see if there are any changes.

What increases your risk of getting thyroid nodules?

You are more likely to develop a thyroid nodule if:

  • You are older.
    • Thyroid nodules are more common in older people.
  • You are female.
    • Women are more likely than men to develop thyroid nodules.
  • You have been exposed to radiation.
    • Exposure to environmental radiation or past radiation treatment to your head, neck, and chest (especially during childhood) increases your risk for thyroid nodules.
  • You do not get enough iodine.
    • Iodine deficiency is rare in the United States, but it is common in areas where iodine is not added to salt, food, and water. An iodine deficiency may result in an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), with or without nodules.
  • You have Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
    • Hashimoto's thyroiditis can cause an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).
  • One or both of your parents have had thyroid nodules.

What are thyroid nodules?

Thyroid nodules are growths or lumps in the thyroid gland. This gland controls how your body uses energy. Most thyroid nodules are not cancer and do not cause problems. Many don't even need treatment. A thyroid nodule may cause problems, such as making too much thyroid hormone. When this happens, you may need treatment.

Can you prevent thyroid nodules?

Thyroid nodules cannot be prevented.

Experts do not agree on whether adults who don't have symptoms should have a thyroid test. The American Thyroid Association and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommend that testing be considered for those older than age 60.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force makes no recommendation for or against screening for people who do not have symptoms of thyroid problems. The USPSTF states that there is not enough evidence to support screening.

Talk to your doctor about whether testing is right for you.

Thyroid nodules: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You lose consciousness.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have shortness of breath.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have pain in your neck, jaw, or ear.
  • You have problems swallowing.
  • You feel weak and tired.
  • You have nervousness, a fast heartbeat, hand tremors, problems sleeping, increased sweating, and weight loss.
  • You do not feel better even though you are taking your medicine.

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