The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that helps regulate the body's metabolism, including heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. Thyroid hormones influence virtually every organ system in the body, telling organs how fast or slow they should work, as well as regulating the consumption of oxygen and the production of heat.
The thyroid gland is susceptible to a wide range of conditions that may include thyroid cancer, thyroid nodules and hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, which is an overactive or underactive gland. Depending on the type and severity of the thyroid condition, patients with these conditions may experience fatigue, rapid heartbeat, weight loss or weight gain, frequent bowel movement, vision problems, and more.
To diagnose thyroid conditions, your doctor will likely perform one of the following exams, which uses minimally invasive techniques to provide the most accurate diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, your doctor will develop a customized treatment plan for your individual condition.
If a lump or nodule is suspected in the thyroid, an ultrasound test can be performed to confirm this. This exam uses sound waves to produce images of the thyroid gland that are visible on a screen in the exam room.
During the thyroid ultrasound procedure, the endocrinologist sweeps the ultrasound transducer slowly and smoothly across the neck with the help of a lubricating jelly. Sound waves travel to the thyroid and bounce back to the transducer, forming an image on the screen. There is no preparation required for this procedure, and it is performed in the office, usually taking about 30 minutes.
The procedure is quick and painless, and the results are known immediately. Your doctor will share the results with your primary care doctor. There are no risks or complications associated with a thyroid ultrasound. Patients can return to their normal activities immediately after the procedure.
A biopsy may be recommended if a lump or nodule is detected in an examination or if the thyroid gland is enlarged without explanation. Biopsy is the only accurate method to determine whether the lump is benign or cancerous, and involves removing a small sample of cells from the thyroid gland. The samples will be submitted for cytological review by a pathologist.
During the biopsy procedure, the patient will lie on their back, which pushes the thyroid gland forward, before a thin needle is inserted into the neck to carefully remove cells and a fluid sample. This will be performed under ultrasound guidance to ensure the most precise removal.
The biopsy results will be discussed with you and a customized treatment plan will be developed.
After a needle biopsy, patients may experience soreness and tenderness in the neck area for one to two days, which can be managed with over-the-counter pain medications. You will be able to return to work and other regular activities right after the procedure.
While there is a risk of infection and bleeding with thyroid biopsy, most patients undergo this procedure with no complications and effective results in diagnosing their thyroid condition.