Health Team

Thyroid nodules common, but should be checked by doctor

Posted February 9, 2016 9:10 a.m. EST

About half of adults over the age of 40 have thyroid lumps or nodules.

These lumps in the thyroid gland in the neck are common and usually not a cause for alarm, though it is still a good idea to have them checked out.

People can check for nodules by looking in the mirror, taking a sip of water and tipping their heads back as they swallow.

"Typically, the thyroid will move up and down so you're going to look again from the Adam's apple to the collar bone and if you see anything moving up or down," said Dr. Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis of the Cleveland Clinic. "A lump, a bump, that would be something you'd want to see your doctor about."

Large nodules might make it difficult to swallow or breathe and may impact voice, but they can be removed surgically.

Nodules can also secrete extra thyroid hormones and cause irregular heartbeat, insomnia, weight loss, nervousness and muscle weakness.

Such nodules can be surgically removed or treated with radioactive iodine.

Only about 5 percent of nodules are cancerous, and those need surgery to remove the entire thyroid gland and possibly the surrounding lymph nodes.

Bottom line: have nodules checked by a primary care physician.

"If they feel anything, often they can check a thyroid ultrasound, and if a nodule is found then obviously the next step would be to see an endocrinologist," Kellis said.

An endocrinologist will evaluate the cause of the lump and see if there's any changes in the blood function of the thyroid.

Doctors will likely monitor nodules with periodic blood tests and might also order thyroid ultrasounds to keep an eye on it.