Thyroid Ultrasound

Written by Debra Stang
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Thyroid Ultrasound?

An ultrasound is a painless procedure. It uses sound waves to make images of the inside of your body. A doctor uses an ultrasound to obtain images of a fetus during pregnancy.

A thyroid ultrasound is used to examine the thyroid for abnormalities such as:

  • cysts
  • nodules
  • tumors

When Is a Thyroid Ultrasound Ordered?

A thyroid ultrasound may be ordered if a thyroid function test is abnormal. An ultrasound can be used to check an underactive or overactive gland. An ultrasound may also be ordered if your doctor feels a growth on the thyroid when examining your neck.

How Is a Thyroid Ultrasound Obtained?

Your ultrasound will probably be performed in a hospital. However, a growing number of outpatient facilities also perform this procedure.

Before going for the test, remove necklaces and other accessories that can block your throat.

When you arrive, you will be asked to remove your shirt and lie on your back. The ultrasound technician will place a pillow or a pad under the back of your neck. This will tilt your head back and expose your throat. Some people find this position uncomfortable. However, it is not usually painful.

When the technician is ready, gel will be rubbed onto your throat. This helps the ultrasound probe, or transducer, glide over your skin. The gel may feel a little cold when it is applied. Contact with your skin will soon help warm it.

The technician will run the transducer back and forth over the area where your thyroid is located. This is painless. Images will be visible on a screen. These are used to make sure that the radiologist has a clear picture of your thyroid to evaluate. Technicians are not allowed to diagnose or to explain ultrasound results. Do not ask them to do so.

Your doctor and a radiologist will examine the images. You will be called with the results in a few days.

A thyroid ultrasound is not associated with any risks. You will be able to resume your normal activities as soon as it is over.

How Can a Thyroid Ultrasound Help with Diagnosis?

An ultrasound can give your doctor a lot of valuable information. It can show:

  • if a growth is fluid-filled or solid
  • the number of growths
  • where the growths are located
  • whether a growth has distinct boundaries
  • blood flow to the growth

Ultrasounds can also detect goiter. Goiter is a swelling of the thyroid gland.

Follow-Up After a Thyroid Ultrasound

Follow up depends on what the ultrasound shows. Your doctor may order a biopsy of a suspicious lump. A fine needle aspiration may also be used for further diagnosis. During this procedure, a doctor inserts a long, thin needle into a cyst on the thyroid. Fluid is drawn up to test for cancer.

If the ultrasound shows no abnormalities, you may not need any additional care.

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