A goiter is an enlarged thyroid. The thyroid, a gland in the neck that's situated just beneath the Adam's apple, produces metabolism-controlling hormones. Goiters tend to grow slowly, and are usually not painful. Although goiters usually don't occur until ages 40 and older, they occasionally occur in teenagers.
Causes in Teens
Goiters in teens, according to KidsHealth, are caused mainly by Hasimoto's thyroiditis, in which your teen's thyroid gland comes under attack by her own immune system. The gland fights back by producing more hormones, which causes the swelling that leads to the condition. In some cases, thyroid cancer might be the root problem.
Doctor Diagnostic Methods
A physician will use a number of tools to determine whether your teen's goiter is benign or malignant. For instance, he might check her neck to evaluate whether an enlargement is present. He might also use ultrasound to seek nodules. If any are there, he biopsies it to check for cancer. He might also screen the blood for elevated thyroid hormone levels, suggesting an autoimmune attack. He might perform a thyroid scan in which your teen drinks a radioisotope so he can take a picture of the gland. He might also do a series of compression tests -- a barium swallow, for instance, to see whether the goiter is making swallowing difficult by compressing the esophagus.
If the goiter is small, your teen's physician will determine whether treatment is not necessary. Even so, a doctor might prescribe drugs that block the production of thyrotropin, the hormone that stimulates thyroid growth. If it's interfering with breathing or swallowing, however, he might perform partial or total surgery to remove the enlarged thyroid that's interfering. If he finds cancer, surgery, chemotherapy or radiation might be necessary. However, if the goiter is large yet benign, the physician might choose to use an iodine treatment to shrink the thyroid.
What You Can Do
Reassure your teen that she is not unattractive because of the enlarged thyroid. Be honest with her, however, and tell her that while the goiter could be a sign of a malignancy, it could stem from more benign causes as well, such as an iodine insufficiency. Take her to the doctor to diagnose the condition, and end the constant speculation and worry that she may be experiencing. In addition, encourage her to include more iodine in her diet.