A painful, swollen thyroid can be the symptom of many problems, from a hyperactive thyroid to thyroid cancer. If you are experiencing thyroid pain, it is crucial to visit your doctor to find out what is causing the discomfort. Left untreated, any thyroid problem can have serious health implications.
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A swollen thyroid, also called a goitre, is a common symptom. Hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer and thyroid nodules can all cause the thyroid to swell. Thyroid pain does not always accompany thyroid swelling, and pain does not necessarily indicate the severity of the underlying thyroid condition. Doctors are unsure why some patients experience pain and some do not.
Types of Pain
Thyroid pain may feel like an ache, and the swollen thyroid may be tender to the touch. For other patients, the pain may feel like a sore throat or hoarse throat. Swallowing may also be painful.
Rather than diagnosing you based on a painful, swollen thyroid, your doctor will attempt to determine the cause of the pain. A blood test is used to diagnose hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism (in which the gland under- or overproduces thyroid hormones, respectively) . Nodules can be diagnosed through a physical exam in which your doctor "feels" your thyroid by examining your neck, or by taking an X-ray or biopsy. Thyroid cancer is diagnosed using blood tests, imaging tests (X-ray, ultrasonography) and/or biopsy.
The treatment of a swollen and painful thyroid depends on the underlying cause of the condition. In the case of hypothyroidism, thyroid hormone replacement medication is used. For hyperthyroidism, radioactive iodine therapy or thyroid suppressing medication are treatment options. These same treatments may be used to shrink thyroid nodules. If nodules do not respond to these treatments, then they may be surgically removed. Thyroid cancer may be treated using chemotherapy, radiation or removal of the thyroid, depending on how far along the disease is at the time of diagnosis. Treating these conditions usually alleviates the pain in the long run, but in the short term, over-the-counter painkillers can be used to make the pain tolerable.
Thyroid pain can be one of the first warning signs of thyroid cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, thyroid nodules that are painful are often malignant. It is important not to ignore pain or swelling of your thyroid gland. Even if you have already been diagnosed with hyperactive or hypoactive thyroid, don't write off new thyroid pain or swelling as simply a symptom of your ongoing condition. Always report thyroid pain to your doctor. You may need an adjustment if you are already on thyroid medication, or you may have a more serious problem. Catching thyroid cancer early improves the success rate of treatment.
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