Doctors often request a thyroid ultrasound when evaluating thyroid nodules. The use of this diagnostic procedure can often tell your physician whether the mass that has formed is a benign fluid-filled cyst or a malignant tumor. Additionally, this procedure is entirely non-invasive which makes it an excellent diagnostic tool. Given all of this, here are a few facts about the thyroid ultrasound procedure.
13 Facts About Thyroid Ultrasound to Keep in Mind
1. What Is a Thyroid Ultrasound?
This diagnostic procedure is entirely non-invasive, quick, painless, and inexpensive. However, the most valuable thing about a thyroid ultrasound is the quality and amount of information this procedure provides. This procedure involves having sound waves approximate an image of your thyroid gland through a hand held imaging device.
2. Who Should Get a Thyroid Ultrasound?
Your doctor will likely request a thyroid ultrasound following a thyroid function test that returns abnormal results. This test evaluates abnormal growth in the area of your neck where the thyroid is located. Often, thyroid nodules are painless which leads to individuals developing nodules without notice. Given this, doctors often find these nodules while performing routine physical examinations.
Additionally, doctors also request a thyroid ultrasound for people who are slated to undergo a fine needle biopsy. Performing an ultrasound prior to a biopsy will inform the physician about the exact location of the mass as well as the exact areas to biopsy.
3. How Does It Work?
This procedure is made possible through the use of high frequency (10-15 MHz) sound waves that are transmitted from the ultrasound probe. The sound travels through the applied ultrasound gel and into the body. Following this, the sound bounces back into the transducer. After this a computer uses the sound waves to generate a 2D image. This is done by how changes in the sound’s pitch and direction are recorded.
Unlike in x-rays, ultrasounds do not require the use of ionizing radiation. Because of this, the patient is not exposed to radiation which makes it a safe procedure, even for expecting mothers.
4. How Do You Prepare for an Ultrasound?
An ultrasound can take place in either a hospital or an outpatient facility. Prior to the test, the technologist will ask you to remove jewelry or anything blocking the area to be examined. Additionally, you will also be asked to remove your shirt and lie on your back. Given this, it is advisable to wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothing for your ultrasound. However, you may also be asked to wear a gown for the procedure.
Should a child have to undergo this procedure, it is important that they are able to remain still. Given this, you must inform the child of the purpose of the procedure and why they must keep still. It is also important to communicate that the ultrasound will not hurt them. Additionally, it would be good to bring toys and books to keep young children calm during the ultrasound.
There is a possibility your doctor may suggest injecting contrast agents into your bloodstream in order to enhance the quality of the images. The contrast agents commonly used for this purpose are Lumason and Levovist. These compounds are comprised of gas that is full of tiny bubbles.
5. How Is It Done?
Once you have removed all of your clothing and jewelry and are in position, the ultrasound technician will help you get into an optimal position, either lying down or seated upright. Then the technician will expose your throat by placing a pillow under the back of your neck to tilt your head back. Although slightly uncomfortable, this position is not painful.
Following throat exposure, the technician will apply ultrasound gel onto your throat. This gel is important because it helps the transducer glide over the skin more smoothly. You may initially feel that the gel is cold but this will warm up. This gel can also help eliminate air pockets between the transducer and the skin which can potentially block sound waves.
The technician will then locate your thyroid gland by running the transducer over the general area of the gland. This, too, is not painful. However, you may feel some pain if there are any preexisting areas of tenderness. Should you feel any discomfort, make sure that you let the technician know so that he or she may make the necessary adjustments.
The ultrasound gel will then be wiped off. Do not worry if the technologist fails to wipe off some of the gel, it is not harmful and does not stain or discolor clothing.
6. How Long Does It Take To Get The Results?
The procedure itself only takes a few minutes. However, you will likely have to wait a few days before getting your results. It is important that you know that only doctors can interpret and diagnose ultrasound images. Given this, you should not ask the ultrasound technologist to interpret the images during the procedure. The responsibility of your ultrasound technologist is limited to taking images of your thyroid gland from different angles.
7. What Are Some Common Uses of the Procedure?
As mentioned, a thyroid ultrasound is usually requested following an abnormal thyroid function test. Your doctor may also request this procedure to examine a forming lump on your neck in the area of the thyroid gland. The following are some of the things that this procedure is used for:
- Is the lump on the thyroid? – A thyroid ultrasound can help determine if the developing lump is arising from the thyroid itself. This is because nearby structures can also produce abnormal growth.
- For biopsy preparation – Doctors use thyroid ultrasounds as a means to gauge what areas to sample during a biopsy. An ultrasound allows for a much more accurate biopsy procedure. In addition to this, an ultrasound can differentiate a fluid-filled benign nodule from a potentially malignant one that requires a biopsy.
- To check for additional nodules – It is possible that the nodule felt during a physical examination is actually accompanied by several more.
- To monitor the growth of the thyroid nodule – Having an image of the thyroid gland and nodule can help gauge whether or not the nodule is growing.
8. What Should You Expect to Experience During and After the Procedure?
An ultrasound is generally painless for most patients. The procedure itself usually takes around 30 minutes. Upon completion of the exam, you will get dressed and wait as the technician reviews the ultrasound images. It is important that you remain in the clinic or hospital while the images are under review.This will ensure they have everything they need to make a proper evaluation or diagnosis. Ultrasounds do not affect your level of alertness so you will be able to resume normal daily activities following the procedure.
9. How Can A Thyroid Ultrasound Help With Diagnosis?
There is a lot of useful information that you can get out of a thyroid ultrasound. Being that it is a non-invasive procedure, a thyroid ultrasound is great resource for an initial overview of the condition of your thyroid. Information that an ultrasounds may reveal includes the following:
- If the growing mass is a fluid-filled cyst, a complex cyst, or a solid mass
- The number of growths
- The exact location of the identified growths
- Whether the growths have distinct boundaries
- If there is blood flow to the growth
- If there are signs of swelling of the thyroid gland (goiter)
10. Are There Any Limitations of an Ultrasound of the Thyroid Gland?
A radiologist can use ultrasound images to evaluate the features of thyroid nodules. Some of the features can point to a nodule being benign while others can raise concern in terms of the nodule developing into a tumor. In some cases, it can be difficult for the radiologist to make any definitive distinction between a benign or malignant lump. Should this occur, your doctor would likely recommend a fine needle biopsy and examination of the collected tissue for further evaluation.
Additionally, an ultrasound will not be able to tell you much about the thyroid’s function or distinguish between an under-active, overactive, or normal thyroid. If you are concerned about thyroid function, your doctor will order a blood test or a radioactive iodine uptake test.
11. What Are The Major Benefits and Risks of This Procedure?
Early detection and treatment are important as it makes management of hyperparathyroidism more manageable than severe cases. pic.twitter.com/u5s0UdEqGw
— Thyroid Symptoms (@ThyroidSymptms) August 9, 2017
There are no known risks involved in undergoing a thyroid ultrasound. However, there are many benefits associated with the procedure. At the very least, it is always beneficial to practice preventative and educational health care instead of only visiting the doctor when you know you’re unwell.
- Non-invasive (no needles or injections involved)
- A thyroid ultrasound can be uncomfortable at some points but is not painful
- Ultrasound equipment is accessible in that it is widely available, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive in comparison to other imaging methods
- This method does not involve exposure to radiation and is therefore safe for pregnant women.
- Provides a clear picture of soft tissues that do not show on x-ray images.
- Real-time imaging can help guide needle biopsies and aspirations
- Diagnostic Thyroid Ultrasound procedures have no known risks or harmful effects on humans.
12. What Ultrasound Images Suggest a Benign Mass?
As previously mentioned, a thyroid ultrasound allows your physician to gather information about the characteristics of thyroid nodules. The following are image characteristics that suggest a benign nodule:
- The nodule has sharp edges– This means that the nodule has distinct boundaries.
- Fluid-filled – A fluid-filled nodule is a cyst. Cysts are always benign and do not contain any live tissue.
- Multi-nodular- The thyroid contains multiple distinct nodules within the goiter.
- No blood flow – The nodule does not have its own blood supply. Given this, a thyroid nodule with blood flow is cancerous.
13. How Much Does a Thyroid Ultrasound Cost?
The cost of your ultrasound is dependent on your healthcare provider. It is possible that your health insurance will cover this procedure 100%. On the other hand, providers may charge between $100 to $1000 in addition to the co-pay for an office visit. One factor in pricing considered is the technology used in the procedure. There are 3D ultrasounds available that may cost significantly more than their 2D counterparts.
To learn more about thyroid ultrasound, watch this video by Practical Sonography.
A diagnostic procedure such as thyroid ultrasound is incredibly valuable in informing both a physician and patient decisions. Unlike the fine needle aspiration and biopsy, this is much safer and non-invasive. In addition, this also allows physicians to perform more accurate biopsies and aspirations by serving as a guide for the procedures.
Have you undergone a thyroid ultrasound? Please feel free to share your experience with us in the comments section below!