Typically, the thyroid is assessed through an array of blood tests. However, ultrasounds may be used to accurately and safely examine the physical attributes of the thyroid gland. The safety, efficiency, and accuracy of ultrasounds makes them an excellent method of assessing the thyroid gland.
What is an Ultrasound?
Ultrasound, which may also be called sonography or ultrasonography, is a medical procedure that utilizes high-frequency sound waves to generate images of the internal systems of the body. As the powerful sound waves are projected through tissue, they create reflections and echoes. These can be recorded and used create a video or still image of soft tissue structures including but not limited to the liver, heart, kidney, arterial blockages, reproductive organs, and the thyroid. Using this method, doctors can identify abnormalities in tissues and organs. One of the greatest benefits of ultrasound testing is that it often facilitates early cancer recognition.
Ultrasounds may sound like a pricey procedure. In reality, they are quite affordable. However, as with most healthcare procedures, the cost is highly dependent on your insurance. Some insurers will cover the procedure entirely while others may charge between 100 to 1000 dollars. The specific type of ultrasound may also influence the cost of the procedure. For example, newer three-dimensional ultrasound technologies may cost more than the traditional two-dimensional imaging. Regardless of cost the ultrasound process is considered exceptionally safe and is not associated with any health risks.
The Benefits of Thyroid Ultrasound Testing
The thyroid is a critically important system and may be disrupted by even minor irregularities or growths. A thyroid ultrasound can identify physical abnormalities of the thyroid including cysts, nodules, tumors, and goiter that may disrupt its function. Thyroid ultrasounds can also help determine if the thyroid is underactive (hypothyroid) or overactive (hyperthyroid). Furthermore, ultrasound imaging may help your doctor determine if a thyroid nodule is cancerous or benign.
There are multiple ways in which thyroid ultrasounds improve diagnosis. Ultrasounds provide information regarding the number of growths, the location of growths, determination of growth boundaries, blood flow to growths, and determination if a growth is fluid-filled or solid. All of these factors help to inform various aspects of thyroid health and function thereby facilitating more accurate diagnosis.
When do You Need a Thyroid Ultrasound?
There are several reasons why you may undergo a thyroid ultrasound. Typically, thyroid ultrasounds are administered if standard thyroid tests return abnormal results or if a doctor suspects an irregular growth on or near the gland. An ultrasound may also be administered when a patient requires a thyroid biopsy. Additionally, doctor’s may request an ultrasound if their patient reports abnormal swelling, pain, or infection. And in some cases, thyroid ultrasounds are a standard component of regular physical check-ups. Regardless of the reason, thyroid ultrasounds are a commonly requested procedure.
Preparing for a Thyroid Ultrasound
Depending on the goal of the test, preparations for a thyroid ultrasound may vary. To ensure an accurate image is attained from the procedure certain steps may need to be taken. Before getting a thyroid ultrasound, you may be required to do some or all of the following:
- Remove all jewelry or other items that may block the neck or throat
- Take off your shirt and lay down on your back in a relaxed position (a pillow is usually provided to help expose the throat while remaining comfortable)
- Receive injections with contrast agents to improve the quality of the ultrasound image
- Drink a quart of water prior to the procedure
- Fast for 24 hours prior to the test or eat a fat-free dinner the night before
These requirements may not be necessary for all ultrasounds. Depending on the specifics of the test, your doctor or nurse will tell you what needs to be done in preparation for the procedure.
The Ultrasound Process
If you have never had an ultrasound the process may seem frightening. However, there is no reason to be scared. The thyroid ultrasound procedure is simple, painless, and in some cases, even enjoyable.
After the appropriate preparations have been made, a technician applies gel onto the throat allowing the ultrasound device, also known as a transducer, to more easily move over the skin. Initially the gel may be cold but as the procedure progresses it will warm to a comfortable temperature. After the gel has been applied by the technician, they will begin moving the transducer back and forth over the region where the thyroid is located for 20 to 30 minutes. With the gel in place there should not be any discomfort. If there is, you should inform the technician immediately. Once the technician has completed the procedure all that remains to do is clean off any lingering gel. After that you’re free to go!
The results of your ultrasound are released once your doctor has convened with a radiologist and assessed the physical qualities of the thyroid gland and surrounding tissue. The review process typically takes one to three business days after which your results will be delivered.
After a Thyroid Ultrasound
Depending on the results of your ultrasound, your doctor may recommend follow-up testing, provide a diagnosis for a specific condition, or request an applicable medical procedure. A suspicious or inconclusive lump may prompt the doctor to order a biopsy or fine needle aspiration to better inform their diagnosis. If the ultrasound returns nothing of note, it is likely that your doctor will refrain from any further testing.
An Important Part of Thyroid Care
Thyroid ultrasounds provide a great deal of useful information. They have become an important tool for the identification of thyroid nodules, thyroid disease, abnormal growths, and the early diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Furthermore, ultrasounds are accurate, quick, and painless, making them one of the best ways to assess individual thyroid function. After reading this article you should have all the information you need to confidently attend your next thyroid ultrasound appointment.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to properly diagnose and treat your thyroid condition, optimize your health and improve your quality of life. Our doctors our also trained to utilize thyroid ultrasounds results to help better treat your thyroid function. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, but aren’t getting the treatment you need or if you have symptoms associated with thyroid dysfunction, call us at 877-508-1177 to see how we can help you!
1. Blum, M. “Ultrasonography of the thyroid.” thyroidmanager.org/wp-content/uploads/chapters/ultrasonography-of-the-thyroid.pdf
2. Ferry Jr., R. “Thyroid nodules: Ultrasound of the thyroid.” emedicinehealth.com/thyroid_nodules/page6_em.htm
3. Smith-Bindman, R. et al. “Risk of thyroid cancer based on thyroid ultrasound imaging characteristics: Results of a population-based study.” JAMA Internal Medicine, 173(19), 1788-1796.
4. Thyroid.org. “Thyroid nodules.” thyroid.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/ctfp/volume7/issue1/ct_public_v71_6_7.pdf
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I have been a patient of Dr. Evans for a few years now. I have been healthy all my life and vegan for the past 15 years. In my 50’s now and a few years ago, I found myself running out of energy during the day and also gaining weight, which I had never experienced before. Everyone kept telling me “welcome to the aging process”! 🙁 Waaaaah!! I was referred to Dr. Evans by my best friend who was diagnosed with low thyroid, so I went to see her, and lo and behold my thyroid was low too! Welcome to the aging process, indeed! She put me on supplements and a vegan compound for thyroid. Woohoo! Regular visits to Dr. Evans to adjust to the right dosage has dropped the pounds and I’m more energetic than I’ve ever been! The staff is super nice and filling prescriptions is a breeze. – Mou M.