How is goiter treated?

Treatment for goiter depends on how large the thyroid has grown, symptoms, and what caused it. Treatments include:

  • No treatment/"watchful waiting." If the goiter is small and is not bothering you, your doctor may decide that it doesn’t need to be treated. However, the goiter will be closely watched for any changes.
  • Medications. Levothyroxine (Levothroid®, Synthroid®) is a thyroid hormone replacement therapy. It is prescribed if the cause of the goiter is an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Other medications are prescribed if the cause of the goiter is an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). These drugs include methimazole (Tapazole®) and propylthiouracil. The doctor might prescribe aspirin or a corticosteroid medication if goiter is caused by inflammation.
  • Radioactive iodine treatment. This treatment, used in cases of an overactive thyroid gland, involves taking radioactive iodine orally. The iodine goes to the thyroid gland and kills thyroid cells, which shrinks the gland. After radioactive iodine treatment, the patient usually has to take thyroid hormone replacement therapy for the rest of his or her life.
  • Biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a sample of tissue or cells to be studied in a laboratory. A biopsy may be needed if there are large nodules in the thyroid gland. A biopsy is taken to rule out cancer.
  • Surgery. Surgery is performed to remove all or part of the thyroid gland. Surgery may be needed if the goiter is large and causes problems with breathing and swallowing. Surgery is also sometimes used to remove nodules. Surgery must be done if cancer is present. Depending on the amount of thyroid gland removed, the patient may need to take thyroid hormone replacement therapy for the rest of his or her life.