A nodule is a generic term for abnormal growths of tissue, which can have various causes. They can be found in many locations, sometimes immediately under the skin but also on the thyroid gland, lymph nodes, internal organs or other tissues. They are easily confused with other problems like boils, abscesses and cysts, which have a similar appearance.

Nodules can be distinguished from other growths due to their hard consistency. They can usually be felt under the skin, if they are not very deep. In most cases, they have a benign nature and don't evolve into cancer. However, nodules can also be malignant or sometimes impair the normal body functions. A doctor can decide if a growth is a serious problem or it can be ignored, so you should ask for his advice if you notice one.

The name of nodules comes from an old Latin word that meant "knot". If you think about it, they do resemble knots. They are usually benign growths without any symptoms but they can also cause discomfort and pain by pressing tissues around them. Nodules located deeper inside the body might not be noticed for a very long time. In some cases, they are only discovered by accident in the process of investigating other diseases.

Nodules mostly appear in muscles and tendons, as a result of various injuries. An area particularly prone to the development of such growths is the vocal cords. Nodules are also common on the skin or immediately under it, when they are easily palpable or can even be visible on the surface.

These growths are usually hard when touched, or they can have a rubber-like texture. Sometimes, they color is lighter than the skin around them. Nodules are roughly spherical but can also have an irregular shape. It is also possible for several small nodules to unite into some kind of cluster, resembling a grape. In this case, they rarely grow in size. Depending on the size and location of a nodule, the tissues located around it can be normal or inflamed.

Doctors can choose to remove a nodule, if it causes problems or it is likely to do so in the future. The most common reason to eliminate them is if they hamper organs or other key functions of the body. However, many people decide to remove the growth for purely cosmetic reasons. Doctors can also decide to remove a nodule for testing, if they suspect that one might actually be a tumor.

In most cases, you have no reason to worry if you notice a nodule. Ask for the advice of your doctor, who will decide it is a threat or not. In most cases, medical professionals wait for a while and monitor the growth, to see if it expands. You should immediately ask for medical advice if a nodule is painful or the area around it becomes tender.

Nodules can appear anywhere but the most common locations are the vocal cords, thyroid gland, armpits, groin, lungs or the region of the head and neck in general.

What are the symptoms of nodules?

The growths can also cause various other symptoms, especially if found in sensitive areas. The most common are pain or soreness in the area around them or visible hard lumps under the skin. Nodules that grow on the vocal cords can cause the sound of the voice to change, while the ones in the stomach area can cause pain and digestive issues. In many cases however, nodules don't have any symptoms at all and can be safely ignored.

Types of nodules

One of the most common areas where benign growths can develop is around lymph nodes. These are a critical part of the immune system that protects the body and are distributed everywhere. They are small in size, with an oval shape and can become inflamed, forming nodules especially on the neck, head, armpits or groin.

Nodules are also often found on the vocal cords. They actually appear after improper or excessive use of the voice and can change its tone. Nodules can also form if acid from the stomach reaches the vocal cords and attacks them.

Inflammation of the lungs can also cause nodules to emerge inside these organs. The condition can be triggered by infections and many other diseases. They have a diameter between 0.5 and 3 cm, occasionally larger. Small nodules are usually benign and no medical intervention is needed. If a nodule is larger than 3 cm in size, it can be caused by cancer. In such cases, doctors might require a biopsy in order to be sure.

Another common area where nodules form is on the thyroid gland. There are several types of such nodules, with different causes. Thyroid hormones produced by the gland require a constant supply of the essential element iodine. If the body fails to provide enough iodine, colloid nodules appear. They are not malignant but can be quite large, pressuring the gland. Cysts in the thyroid area are mostly full of liquids, but some of them can also have a content of solid tissues.

Hyper functioning thyroid nodules produce hormones, and they can cause a disease known as hyperthyroidism. Another disease of the thyroid gland is multi-nodular goiter, or the presence of several growths in the area, which expand in time. Most goiter patients actually have a healthy thyroid gland but in some cases the condition is started by a lack of iodine. Even if most thyroid gland nodules are benign, thyroid cancer is also a possible cause for their presence.

Treatment options

When found on the skin, nodules have to be treated if they are painful or if the patient wants them removed for cosmetic reasons. Immediate medical advice is required if there is a risk of a nodule actually being cancer. In some cases, a nodule might be removed and sent to a biopsy because its nature is not clear.

Nodules caused by acne are not a serious threat but often need treatment. Doctors usually prescribe a cure of antibiotics, which reduce the size of the acne nodule and eventually remove it completely, while also eliminating any other symptoms.

Nodules found on the groins or armpits sometimes look similar to skin tags. These can be easily removed at home, by using a piece of dental floss to stop the blood flow to them. This will cause the growth to die and fall on its own after a few days.

Other types of nodules require specific treatment. Large size lipoma can be eliminated by surgical procedures. Nodules formed by diseases such as tuberculosis or leprosy can be cured using the specific antibiotics against these diseases. If a nodule on the skin is caused by cancer, it must be removed through surgery but chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other forms of treatment are also usually required to stop the disease.

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