Thyroid: what is a goiter?

If the thyroid gland enlarges, a goiter develops. This is mostly due to a lack of iodine. What you should know

Text in simple language

Especially in the past, a choker decorated many a woman's neck. It was - and is - part of the female costume in the Alpine region. With this piece of jewelry women concealed a goiter or scars on the neck.

Goiter, called goiter by doctors, is still common today. According to statistics, at least 20 million people in Germany suffer from it.

Goiter mostly caused by iodine deficiency

A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland. The butterfly-shaped organ is located in the front part of the neck and rests on the windpipe. The thyroid gland produces hormones and influences numerous metabolic processes and organs in the body. For this, the small gland needs the trace element iodine. The problem: the organism cannot produce iodine itself; it has to be ingested with food. Since iodine is only found in very few foods, it can lead to a deficiency in the body.

"Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of goiter," says Professor Jochen Kussmann, thyroid specialist and head of the clinic for endocrine surgery at the Schön Klinik Hamburg Eilbek. If the thyroid gets too little iodine, it can no longer produce enough hormones. It tries to make up for this deficit by enlarging. If the organ grows evenly in all areas, there is a diffuse goiter. Much more often, however, only individual areas become larger. Thyroid nodules develop, doctors speak of a nodular goiter. In both cases the enlargement of the organ becomes visible from the outside after a certain volume.

Goiter can cause swallowing problems

If the thyroid gland fulfills all tasks normally despite enlargement, the person concerned often does not notice anything for a long time. Goiter only causes symptoms from a certain size. "The patient then has difficulty swallowing, for example, the shirt collar becomes too tight or he notices a whistling noise when he inhales," explains Kussmann. If the goiter is accompanied by an over- or underactive thyroid, the symptoms that are typical for it can arise. You can read about them here: Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.