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Find out what can cause nodules to develop and when you need to see a doctor.

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What Are Nodules?

A nodule is a growth that forms under your skin. A nodule may be filled with inflamed tissue or a mixture of tissue and fluid. The collection of colored fluid within a nodule may indicate an infection.

Nodules are usually wider than pimples, harmless, and easily treatable. However, they are considered abnormal growths and should be checked by a doctor. Small cysts, tumors, boils, and abscesses can easily be mistaken for nodules. If you discover a nodule on any part of your body, contact your doctor.

What Causes Nodules?

Nodules are made of inflamed tissues that collect together to form a lump. A nodule can grow within any level of skin, which includes the subcutaneous layer, the dermis, and epidermis. Nodules that are found on your body’s organs, or in other locations in the body, such as glands, can have a range of sizes and can be cancerous or noncancerous. Most nodules are benign (non-cancerous). However, some can be cancerous.

Common areas for nodules to form include:

  • thyroid glands
  • lungs
  • underarms
  • groin

There are several different types of thyroid nodules. The most common types include:

  • colloid nodules: these occur due to an overgrowth of tissues in the thyroid gland
  • thyroid cysts: these nodules are fluid-filled
  • multinodular goiter: this nodule causes the thyroid to have an enlarged appearance
  • hyperfunctional thyroid nodules: these thyroid nodules produce excess thyroid hormone

The most common causes of nodules include:

  • injuries
  • over-functioning hormones
  • cancer
  • overgrowth of tissue
  • abnormal bunching of cells
  • family history of nodules
  • mineral deficiencies

Diagnosing and Treating Nodules

Before treatment, the doctor will perform several tests to determine what caused your nodule to appear. These tests include taking a blood sample and, if necessary, a biopsy of the nodule.

If the nodule is non-cancerous, the doctor may choose to simply monitor the nodule without treatment. Nodules frequently change and may go away on their own. If the over-production of a hormone, such as the thyroid hormone, is causing a nodule to form, the doctor may give you prescription medications to suppress the hormone, causing the nodule to shrink.

In some cases, surgery is necessary to remove nodules. If a nodule is cancerous, your doctor may suggest chemotherapy to shrink the nodule. Once the nodule is small enough, the doctor may opt to remove it surgically. Radiation treatment may also be used to shrink the nodule if it is malignant. In very rare cases, the doctor can shrink a non-cancerous nodule using this method.

When Are Nodules an Emergency?

Depending on where the nodule is located, additional symptoms may be present. Common symptoms of nodules include:

  • pain in the area of the nodule
  • hard and visible lump on or in the skin
  • abdominal discomfort, if the nodule is located in or on the abdomen
  • voice changes, if the nodule is located on the vocal cord

Nodules that form in or around the throat may cause symptoms such as:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • neck pain
  • weight loss
  • difficulty sleeping
  • vision problems

If you experience any of the symptoms described, see your doctor immediately and seek medical attention.

Written by: April Kahn
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by:
Published: May 15, 2014
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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