The thyroid gland is a small, lobed gland located in the neck that plays a vital role in regulating the body’s metabolism. It produces hormones controlling the body’s energy, heart rate, and temperature.
When the thyroid gland is not functioning correctly, it can lead to various health problems such as weight gain, fatigue, and depression. A critical tool in diagnosing and managing thyroid disorders is thyroid ultrasonography, also called thyroid ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create images of the thyroid gland.
If prescribed thyroid ultrasonography, learn what you need to know, including the procedure, risks and side effects, and how the results are interpreted.
Uses of Thyroid Ultrasonography
Thyroid ultrasonography is primarily used to evaluate any abnormalities within the thyroid gland, such as nodules or cysts, which can indicate a thyroid disorder.
Thyroid ultrasonography can be used to:
- Confirm the presence of a thyroid nodule or cyst: If a lump or mass is felt during a physical examination, an ultrasound can be used to confirm whether it is a solid or fluid-filled cyst.
- Evaluate the size and shape of the thyroid gland: An ultrasound can be used to measure the thyroid gland’s size, which can indicate certain thyroid disorders, such as an enlarged thyroid (goiter).
- Assess blood flow to the gland: Thyroid ultrasonography can be used to evaluate blood flow to the gland, which can suggest thyroid disorders such as thyroiditis.
- Evaluate for thyroid cancer: If a nodule or cyst is found, ultrasound can provide information about the lesion’s nature and help determine if a fine needle aspiration biopsy is necessary.
- Monitoring treatment: Thyroid ultrasonography can also be used to monitor the progression of a known thyroid disorder and evaluate the treatment’s effectiveness.
A thyroid ultrasound should not be used as the only diagnostic tool for a thyroid disorder. It should be used with other diagnostic methods, such as blood tests and physical examinations, to obtain precise results.
Following a physical exam of your thyroid, your doctor may recommend a thyroid ultrasound. Thyroid ultrasonography is a simple, non-invasive procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the thyroid gland.
A trained ultrasound technician performs the procedure, which typically takes 15 to 30 minutes. There is no special preparation required before the procedure. However, you should wear comfortable clothing with a low or open neck and leave your jewelry at home.
You’ll be asked to lie on an examination table and remain still during the procedure to ensure that the images are clear. The technicians will apply a water-based gel to your neck. The gel is used to help a handheld device called a transducer make better contact with your skin and create a better image of the thyroid gland.
The transducer sends sound waves into the thyroid gland. The sound waves bounce off the gland and return to the transducer, creating a detailed two-dimensional image of the thyroid gland that can be viewed on a monitor. Technicians typically take images of the thyroid gland from different angles to ensure that the entire gland is evaluated.
During the procedure, the ultrasound technician can see the size and shape of the thyroid gland and identify any nodules or cysts that may be present. They will also be able to measure the blood flow to the gland.
Risks and Side Effects
There are no documented risks or side effects associated with thyroid ultrasonography. Unlike X-rays, the procedure does not use ionizing radiation, meaning there is no risk of exposure to harmful radiation or tissue damage.
However, in rare cases, patients may experience an allergic reaction to the ultrasound gel. Reactions are typically restricted to cutaneous irritation and contact dermatitis. If you have a condition such as eczema or psoriasis or frequently experience bouts of contact dermatitis, notify your ultrasound technician, who may be able to offer an alternative lubricant.
Interpretation of Results
Once the thyroid ultrasonography procedure is completed, the images will be analyzed by a radiologist or endocrinologist.
The interpretation of results will depend on the characteristics of the found nodules or cysts. For example, if a nodule is solid, it may indicate a benign or malignant tumor, while a fluid-filled cyst is more likely to be benign.
In some cases, your thyroid ultrasonography may reveal images of nodules containing microcalcifications, which are often associated with cancer. However, a 2013 study has shown that the likelihood of cancer being present in these cases is low; in fact, cancer was found in only about 1 out of every 111 ultrasound tests.
Additionally, more than half of the individuals with results indicating the presence of thyroid nodules did not have cancer. Small nodules are less likely to be cancerous.
If an abnormality is detected, your doctor may recommend further testing, such as a fine needle aspiration biopsy. Fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA) is a diagnostic procedure used to obtain a tissue sample from a thyroid nodule or cyst.
The procedure uses a thin needle to extract a small amount of cells from the nodule or cyst, which are then analyzed under a microscope by a pathologist. This test helps determine if the nodule or cyst is benign or malignant.
Visit Associated Endocrinologists to Manage Thyroid Issues
Regular thyroid gland monitoring through regular check-ups, blood tests, and thyroid ultrasonography is essential to catch any abnormalities or issues. Early detection can prevent the development of more severe health problems and allow prompt treatment to manage the condition.
If you have any concerns about your thyroid health, schedule an appointment with Associated Endocrinologists in Michigan for an exam and thyroid ultrasound.