People with thyroid diseases require routine health care exams and blood tests to monitor their condition. Endocrinologists (specially trained physicians who diagnose diseases related to the glands) treat patients suffering from thyroid conditions. If your exam or blood test results indicate you have a problem with your thyroid, your doctor may order further investigative testing, including a thyroid ultrasound.
What is a Thyroid Ultrasound?
A thyroid ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of your thyroid glands located in your neck just above your collarbone. Your thyroid is butterfly-shaped, consisting of two thyroid glands connected by a thin band called the thyroid isthmus. The ultrasound scans your entire thyroid and neck during the procedure.
Thyroid ultrasounds are used to diagnose and help treat various thyroid problems. You won’t be able to hear the sound waves during your ultrasound. Thyroid ultrasounds don’t use radiation imaging tests to produce images like X-rays and CT scans.
What the Ultrasound is Like
You lie flat on your back on a cushioned exam table during your thyroid ultrasound. A pillow supports your head and neck during your ultrasound procedure. You may need to change into an exam gown if your top covers part of your neck or be asked to fold the collar of your shirt down. You also need to remove necklaces and other jewelry from around your neck.
To perform your thyroid ultrasound, a technician squirts a small amount of gel onto the skin of your neck. Your technician may have a warmer for the gel, but it could feel cool if it’s kept at room temperature. The gel allows the handheld ultrasound transducer probe to glide over your skin.
Once the gel is applied, the ultrasound technician moves the transducer probe on your skin in different directions. You may feel slight pressure or discomfort, but they don’t press the probe down deeply, and it shouldn’t hurt.
The transducer probe sends out sound waves and collects the sound waves that bounce back. A computer creates a 2-dimensional picture of your thyroid using information collected from the sound waves.
Length of a Thyroid Ultrasound
A thyroid ultrasound is a quick and painless procedure that typically takes 30 minutes or less to complete. Once your ultrasound is complete, your technician wipes away the gel they used during the procedure from your skin. You’ll change back into your top if a medical gown was needed for your ultrasound. You can resume your normal activities immediately following your thyroid ultrasound.
The technician sends the images from your ultrasound to a radiologist trained to read and analyze the images. They generate a report and send it to your doctor. Once your doctor receives the report, they share the findings with you. It could take as little as one day to hear back with the results from your doctor, but it’s not uncommon for patients to wait up to a week to get results.
Why You Might Need an Ultrasound
Your doctor may order a thyroid ultrasound if they detect a problem in your blood work, suspect you may have thyroid nodules, or if you’re experiencing other thyroid function problems.
Abnormal blood work
Blood tests measure the levels of thyroid hormones in your body. Sudden or extreme changes in your blood work could indicate a structural problem with your thyroid. An ultrasound identifies any structural issues causing problems with your thyroid hormones.
Evaluate and diagnose thyroid nodules
Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths that occur within and around your thyroid gland. Nodules vary in number and size. Some nodules appear as large lumps and cause health problems, while others are small and don’t cause any symptoms but still need to be monitored.
A thyroid ultrasound is used to identify and evaluate thyroid nodules. Your doctor uses ultrasounds to analyze the appearance of your nodules and help determine if any require further inspection or treatment. Thyroid ultrasounds can be performed routinely to monitor your thyroid nodules to see if their shape or size changes over time.
Determine if the problem is thyroid-related
People get lumps in their necks for different reasons, and they’re not always caused by a thyroid problem. A thyroid ultrasound can be used to determine if a lump or other symptoms of concern are located within your thyroid or in another part of your neck structure, such as your lymph nodes or parathyroid.
If you have a history of thyroid cancer
Patients with a history of thyroid cancer may need regular ultrasounds after their treatment is completed to check for signs of recurrence. Thyroid ultrasounds or thyroid scans using radioactive iodine may also be used to diagnose and treat thyroid cancer.
To help with placement during other procedures
You may need additional thyroid imaging and procedures if your doctor suspects a thyroid lump or nodule is cancerous. Biopsies are taken during fine needle aspiration procedures to identify thyroid cancer. These procedures use ultrasounds to guide the needle into your thyroid.
Thyroid ultrasounds capture the structure of your thyroid gland and surrounding neck tissues. It can detect if abnormal cells exist or if your thyroid is enlarged. A thyroid ultrasound is sensitive and can find small thyroid nodules that doctors can’t detect through a physical exam. The images created from a thyroid ultrasound help your doctor look for and identify issues with your thyroid.
Are Thyroid Ultrasounds Safe for Everyone?
Thyroid ultrasounds are safe, non-invasive procedures with no known side effects or complications. Thyroid ultrasounds don’t expose you to radiation like other forms of imaging, so they’re safe for people who are pregnant or want to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure.
Patients who have underlying neck issues or suffer from neck pain may feel more discomfort than others during their ultrasound. These patients should inform their technician about their condition before the ultrasound starts, so they can limit your discomfort.
Thyroid Care With Associated Endocrinologists
Our skilled endocrinologists have been treating patients with thyroid conditions in Southeast Michigan since 1984. We understand the medical services thyroid patients need and offer onsite thyroid ultrasounds for quick and effective care.
Contact our office today to set up your thyroid appointment.