Ultrasounds are a common diagnostic test. They use sound waves to detect various medical conditions, including thyroid problems. An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to generate images of the inside of the body. It is also sometimes called a sonogram.

Learn what a thyroid ultrasound is, how to prepare for the procedure, and what you can expect during and after an ultrasound.

What is a Thyroid Ultrasound?

A thyroid ultrasound scan is usually requested when a physical exam or other imaging test suggests that there may be a problem with the thyroid gland.

Physicians order a thyroid ultrasound to look for thyroid nodules or thyroid cancer. It can also be used to measure the size and determine the location of the thyroid gland and evaluate how well it is functioning.

A thyroid ultrasound is performed as an outpatient procedure and takes less than 30 minutes to complete.

How to Prepare for an Ultrasound

Although no special preparation is required for an ultrasound procedure, you should wear loose, comfortable clothing that does not restrict your neck movement. You should also avoid wearing jewelry around your neck.

Unless your doctor has instructed you otherwise, you can eat and drink normally before and after the test.

Your doctor may also ask you to stop taking your thyroid medications or medications containing high iodine levels. Excess iodine can cause inaccurate imaging results.

What to Expect During an Ultrasound

When you arrive at the clinic, you’ll lay down on the exam table next to the ultrasound machine and a computer monitor. Then, the doctor applies a water-based lubricating gel to the skin to help the transducer move smoothly over the examined area.

During an ultrasound, a small device called a transducer is placed on your skin. The transducer emits sound waves that bounce off organs and tissues to create images on a computer screen. The doctor moves the transducer slowly around your neck to take a series of images of your thyroid at different angles.

The test is usually painless, although you may feel some discomfort from having to hold still for long periods.

What Happens After the Ultrasound is Complete?

You will be able to go home after your ultrasound is complete. There are no special aftercare instructions. You can return to your normal activities immediately following the procedure.

Upon completion of the ultrasound, the images will be reviewed by a radiologist, who then generates a report. Your physician will share the results with you.

In some cases, blood tests or a fine needle aspiration biopsy may be required to confirm the diagnosis.

What are the Risks of an Ultrasound?

Ultrasounds do not use radiation and are generally considered safe; however, there are still some risks associated with the procedure:

  • If you eat or drink before having an ultrasound, you may develop nausea or cramping.
  • Ultrasound waves can sometimes cause the thyroid gland to overproduce hormones, leading to fatigue, anxiety, and other symptoms.

While these side effects are usually mild and go away independently, they can still be uncomfortable.

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