THYROID ULTRASOUND- ANATOMY, FUNCTION, AND BIOPSY
What does the Thyroid gland do?
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system that affects the metabolism, growth, and metabolism of the body. It is a small butterfly-shaped gland that lies in front of the trachea and is responsible for producing hormones to make many cells in your body function correctly. Its proper or improper function can affect our energy level, ability to sleep, muscle and digestive function, brain function and mood, ability to maintain a healthy heart rate, and bone health.
Normal thyroid gland function is particularly important for women as its function or dysfunction (incorrect function) may cause problems with fertility, and pregnancy.
What hormone does the Thyroid produce?
The function of the thyroid can be assessed by measuring the specific hormones secreted by the thyroid gland called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) or by measuring the feedback signal from the pituitary gland (the brain of the thyroid), called Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Iodine is a necessary building block for the thyroid. Another substance produced by the gland called Calcitonin signals the correct amount of calcium in the blood and affects bone metabolism.
How do I know if I have an underactive thyroid gland?
This condition is known as hypothyroidism
where the gland doesn’t make enough hormones. Many of these patients with hypothyroidism tell us “I just can’t lose weight even though I’m hardly eating anything” or “I feel cold all the time”, or “my hair is falling out and my skin feels dry all the time”. Unfortunately, making the diagnosis of hypothyroidism is not as easy as just performing bloodwork because the body does everything it can to keep the hormones at a certain normal range in the bloodstream so that other organs can function properly. Therefore, thyroid function test laboratory values don’t tell the whole story.
Additionally, many changes in the thyroid function occur at times in our lives where other hormones are also changing such as during pregnancy or menopause. Both women and men experience hormonal changes at about age 50. In women, we refer to this time as peri-menopause. In men, we refer to this time as “mano-pause”. Many other hormonal sex hormone changes also occur at this time so the complaints of fatigue or low libido from thyroid dysfunction may be masked by other hormonal changes.
What are the signs of an overactive thyroid gland?
Some people may suffer from an overly active thyroid which produces too much hormone and overly affects the downstream organs. Hyperthyroidism may present with cardiac palpitations, flushing, memory loss or mood disturbances, unexplained weight loss, difficulty regulating one’s body temperature, changes in vision or muscles of the eyes.
Why does the thyroid gland enlarge in size?
This thyroid enlargement may because it is diffusely enlarged such as goiter from iodine deficiency related to inadequate or poor nutrition. This condition is uncommon in developed countries but can still occur in the noncoastal United States where the soil has never been underwater and lacks natural iodine in the foods grown. The thyroid gland may enlarge diffusely or become a conglomerate of symmetric nodules in order to maintain adequate hormone production. We call this condition Compensatory Thyroid Enlargement or Multi-Nodular Goiter, respectively.
Autoimmune processes such as Graves disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
can cause the thyroid gland to become larger at some times and then smaller as injury atrophies the gland over time. If the gland is actively inflamed accompanied by an abrupt change in function, swelling, or redness of the neck, blood tests may show a sudden overproduction of hormones or antibodies to the gland or its receptors. This condition is referred to as toxic thyroiditis. This may be dangerous especially if important functions such as heart rate or temperature are involved. Sometimes a single nodule enlarges and not the whole gland. This process usually requires an ultrasound of the thyroid gland.
When do I need a Thyroid Ultrasound?
A thyroid ultrasound is indicated to evaluate any physiologic change your Clinician notices such as enlargement, redness of the neck, growth palpated on examination. An ultrasound may also be ordered for symptoms you notice internally such as difficulty swallowing or hoarseness. Ultrasound is not typically indicated with a normal-sized gland if physiologic bloodwork findings such as hypothyroidism are detected.
Why Choose The Women’s Imaging Center?
At The Women’s Imaging Center, our technologists and physicians specialize in the performance, detection, and diagnosis of all thyroid conditions and nodules. We perform comprehensive imaging for women from head to toe and have decades of specialized training in all organ systems of the body and their interrelationship. Thyroid function may affect the breast in the form of pain. Pregnancy-related issues may be a result of autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Graves or Hashimoto’s. We specialize in all these processes and work closely with other specialists such as endocrinologists or gynecologists in a multi-disciplinary fashion. Because we are independent and have been serving our communities for over 25 years, we know the best clinicians and can help you select the best team for your particular needs.
How is a Thyroid Ultrasound Performed?
Ultrasound of the thyroid uses the same technology regardless of whether we are evaluating the thyroid, breast, or uterus. We use a small hand-held transducer (wand) that emits sound waves produced by special crystals sent to and from the transducer to the thyroid gland. Those sound waves (called ultrasound) reflected back to the crystals in the transducer are displayed as images of the gland for the technologist and specialized radiologist to interpret. We look at the overall size of the thyroid gland, the texture, nearby lymph nodes, and whether there are any nodules. We can also look at the vessels of the thyroid which can give us additional information on the health or function of the gland.
Although most nodules of the thyroid have characteristics that appear benign (noncancerous), some have suspicious characteristics such as an irregular shape or suspicious calcifications that require a thyroid needle biopsy.
How is a Thyroid Needle Biopsy Performed?
At The Women’s Imaging Center
, we frequently perform a Needle Biopsy of the gland using a fine needle, this procedure is called Fine Needle Biopsy (FNB). We use the ultrasound to safely guide us to the exact location of the nodule, avoiding other structures of the neck. We perform all interventional procedures, including thyroid biopsy, in an out-patient office setting for your comfort, convenience, and cost-efficiency. The Women’s Imaging Center is the premier and most utilized imaging facility in Denver for performing thyroid biopsies. Most thyroid biopsies prove to be benign. However, when malignancy is found, we work closely with specialized surgeons in this field who treat thyroid cancer. Thankfully, most thyroid cancer is of low aggressiveness, and most patients do very well with this diagnosis after treatment.