Goitre (Including Multi-nodular)

Non-toxic goitres
Enlargement of a thyroid gland containing follicles that are functionally altered.

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Often later-developing lesions.



Geographical distribution

Goitres are endemic in areas of iodine deficiency.
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Familial defects including 'dyshormonogenesis' (genetic defects in correct synthesis of thyroid hormones)
Enzyme deficits (eg defects impairing iodine incorporation).
Endemic goitre (iodine deficiency).
Goitrogens, eg in cabbage and cassava root (suppress T3 and T4).
Certain drugs, eg lithium (suppress T3 and T4).
Much sporadic goitre is of unknown cause.

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Under persistant low grade stimulation
Get differential growth and involution, leading to an irregular nodularity.
Resulting tissue tensions generate small haemorrhages and follicle ruptures
Ultimately leads to a fibrotic cystic and disorganised gland.
May be followed by functional autonomy

Symptoms relate to cosmesis, mass effect and thyroid function.
Thyroid function:
If the underlying cause is severe, gland hypertrophy is inadequate to supply hormone to peripheral tissues, allowing goitrous hypothyroidism (eg severe iodine deficiency).
TSH increases, though usually unhelpfully.
MNG may also become toxic (see Toxic MNG).


Endocrine abnormalities
Sudden haemorrhage into a nodule, with swelling, and compression possible.
May mask a developing neoplasm.
- rate of cancer in an MNG is same as any nodule (~5%)
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Cosmetic complaint.
Mass effect
Stridor, SOB (trachea).
Hoarseness (laryngeal nerves - rare in simple goitre).
- can rarely result from pressure on nerves due to haemorrhage into the gland
Dysphagia (oesophagus).
Headache (venous outflow).


Hypothyroidism if severe underlying cause.
Toxic MNG - see card.
Jod-Basedow phenomenon with iodine consumption.


Refer also hypo/hyperthyroidism cards.


Above features - NB mass moves up with swallow.
Pemberton's sign.


Enlarged gland, moves up with swallow.
- diffuse vs nodular?
- nodules may be individually palpable.
Tracheal deviation?
Thrill possible.


Sternum - ?retrosternal extension.


Bruit possible.
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TSH single best test
Additionally T4, T3 as reqd
Work up as for any thyroid nodule
Work up any nodule within an NMG with concerning imaging features (hypoechogenicity, hypervascularity, microcalcifications).

Antimicrosomial or antithyroglobulin antibodies turn diagnosis in favour of Hashimoto's.


Ultrasound +/- FNA as above
CT/MRI if concern for retrosternal extension.
RAIU (radioactive iodine uptake) may be useful in toxic picture

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Indications for Treatment
1. Discomfort
2. Mechanical obstruction
3. Subclinical or overt thyrotoxicosis
4. Suspicion for cancer
5. Cosmesis (uncommonly an isolated presenting complaint)
6. Retrosternal


Stop goitrogens if known cause.


1. Thyroxine-suppressing therapy?
Evidence lacking from several prospective trials
- side effects (bone mineral loss and cardiotoxicity) negate any advantage.
2. Radio-iodine?
Effective with 40-60% shrinkage in most within 2 years
Can decrease compressive symptoms
- radiation induced thyroiditis or hypothyroidism (~20%+)
- malignancy (very rare)
?Recombinant TSH to augment radioiodine uptake
- recent studies into this.


Mainstay of treatment.
Complication rates are low (<2%) in experienced centers
- and with meticulous hemostasis and liberal parathyroid autotransplantation
One of the most critical aspects is safe securing of airway
- conscious fiberoptic intubation if marked deviation or compression.
Rarely need to go into chest given cervical origin and arterial anatomy
Thyroid replacement for life - 1.7ug/kg usual dose.

Notes on MNG Surgery
1. Generous collar incision
- wide subplatysmal flaps, separating flaps in midline
- divide sternothyroid muscle near upper pole for exposure
2. Open plane between larynx and upper pole
- expose superior thyroid artery, vein, and external branch of superior laryngeal nerve.
- (can use nerve stimulation to trace out path during ligation of upper pole vessels)
3. Individually ligate superior thyroid artery and vein on capsule; minimizing risk to nerve
4. With upper pole mobilized, partially rotate gland up and out
- exposing middle thyroid vein, ligated in continuity
5. Enter correct fascial plan with gentle finger dissection.
- goitre can be delivered into wound, even if partially substernal
6. Identify RLN and parathyroids
- inferior thyroid vessels taken off.
7. RLN taken back to insertion
- terminal branches of inferior thyroid artery are divided and ligated between ligaclips
- RLN and parathyroids gently separated from thyroid and ligament of Berry and divided, freeing lobe and isthmus.
- prominent lobe of Zuckerkandl can make dissection more difficult at this time.
8. Devascularized parathyroids:
- autonomous transplant into SCM, mark site with permanent suture
- if unsure, nick capsule with iris scissors or 11 blade --> if bleeding and normal colour return then safe to leave it.
9. Closed suction drain to obliterate dead space,
10. Layered closure.

Sometimes done if wanting to preserve at least one superior parathyroid when unsure

Post-op Care
Drain out d1
Calcium supplementation based on symptoms, serum calcium and phosphorus and serum parathyroid
Thyroid hormone replacement prior to dismissal
- recheck TFTs in 6 weeks.

1. Posteriorly displaced goitres
- nerve may run over gland between nodules
- risk should be evident by posterior displacement on scan (e.g. retroesophageal)
--> find nerve on upper pole, where pierces inferior constrictor, then follow back proximally
--> may need to remove posterior portion piecemeal so don't put tension on RLN
[with anteriorly displaced goitres, the RLN and parathyroid are often diplaced posteriorly, safely out the way]

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