Our thyroids are responsible for producing a few critical hormones in our bodies. Most notably, our thyroids help regulate metabolism, energy levels, and body temperature. Thyroid abnormalities, then, can lead to a number of health complications. If your thyroid is not functioning as it should, a doctor may conduct a thyroid ultrasound to determine the exact problem.
Ultrasounds are a common form of diagnostic testing because they are simple, effective, and painless.
What to Expect During an Ultrasound of Thyroid
The process of receiving an ultrasound of thyroid is not dissimilar from other types of ultrasounds. Ultrasounds are rarely, if ever, painful, and present no dangers. However, some patients may experience slight discomfort during a thyroid ultrasound in particular. But this is simply due to the posture required to perform the ultrasound.
Because our thyroid glands are located at the front of the neck, the patient’s head needs to be tilted backward during an ultrasound. Most patients will lay flat on their backs with a pillow underneath their necks during the ultrasound.
To perform the ultrasound, a technician will rub a special gel on the patient’s throat. After that, they will scan the area using a transducer, which generates an image on a screen using sound waves. This allows the doctor to get a visual reading on the status of the thyroid. Then, they can explain what they see to the patient, make a diagnosis, and set a treatment plan.
The process does not last long and is often the best way to diagnose thyroid abnormalities. But what conditions could necessitate an abnormal thyroid ultrasound in the first place?
Reasons for Abnormal Thyroid Ultrasound
Growth on Thyroid (Nodule)
A thyroid nodule is a small, fluid-filled lump that can grow on your thyroid. In most cases, thyroid nodules are not a serious health risk and have no symptoms. Some thyroid nodules can be seen or felt as small lumps or swollen areas at the front of the neck.
While thyroid nodules do not usually cause symptoms, some can. Occasionally, a thyroid nodule can lead to the overproduction of the hormone thyroxine. This can cause unexplained weight loss, irregular heartbeat, sweating, trouble swallowing, or tremors. Additionally, it is always best to check thyroid nodules to make sure they are not cancerous.
Enlarged Thyroid (Goiter)
A goiter is an irregular overall growth of the entire thyroid gland. Goiters typically present visually as lumps or swelling at the base of the neck. Many goiters are small and present no symptoms at all, or only present visually. However, some goiters can also be linked to other conditions, such as an underactive or overactive thyroid.
Underactive thyroids can cause fatigue and increased sleepiness, memory and concentration struggles, and increased sensitivity to cold. Overactive thyroids are associated with symptoms like unexplained weight loss, rapid heart rate, excessive sweating, and irritability.
Doctors may order an abnormal thyroid ultrasound to determine the full size of the goiter and prescribe treatment options.
Any time you or a doctor notice a thyroid abnormality, it is best to make sure it’s not a tumor. A thyroid cancer ultrasound can be used to either rule out or diagnose thyroid cancer.
Thyroid cancer is not among the most common forms of cancer in the United States. However, it still affects a little over 40,000 people annually, and is more common in females than males. Luckily, with early detection, thyroid cancer has a nearly 100% survival rate. This emphasizes the importance of receiving a thyroid cancer ultrasound. The earlier a tumor can be detected, the sooner treatment can begin.
To learn more about thyroid glands and health, read about BASS Medical Group’s endocrinology treatment and service options.