CausesBy Mayo Clinic staff
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Several conditions can cause one or more nodules to develop in your thyroid gland:
- Iodine deficiency. Lack of iodine in your diet can sometimes cause your thyroid gland to produce thyroid nodules. But iodine deficiency is uncommon in the United States, where iodine is routinely added to table salt and other foods.
- Overgrowth of normal thyroid tissue. Why this occurs isn't clear but such growth — which is sometimes referred to as a thyroid adenoma — is generally noncancerous (benign) and isn't considered serious unless it's bothersome or causes complications. Some thyroid adenomas (autonomous or hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules) produce thyroid hormones outside of your pituitary gland's normal regulatory influence, leading to an overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism).
- Thyroid cyst. Fluid-filled cavities (cysts) in the thyroid most commonly result from degenerating thyroid adenomas. Often, solid components are mixed with fluid in thyroid cysts. Cysts are usually benign, but they occasionally contain malignant solid components.
- Chronic inflammation of the thyroid (thyroiditis). Hashimoto's disease, a thyroid disorder, can cause thyroid inflammation and enlargement, and reduce thyroid gland activity (hypothyroidism).
- Multinodular goiter. "Goiter" is a term used to describe any enlargement of the thyroid gland, which can be caused by iodine deficiency or a thyroid disorder. A multinodular goiter contains multiple distinct nodules within the goiter but its cause is less clear.
- Thyroid cancer. Although the chances that a nodule is malignant are small, you're at higher risk if you have a family history of thyroid or other endocrine cancers, are younger than 30 or older than 60, are a man, or have a history of radiation exposure, particularly to the head and neck. A nodule that is large and hard or causes pain or discomfort is more worrisome in terms of malignancy.
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