This article explains all about ultrasound testing, also known as an ultrasound scan or sonogram. This article will help you understand why you have been referred for an ultrasound test, how to prepare for the test, what’s involved in the testing process and what to expect after the procedure.
What is an ultrasound scan?
An ultrasound scan is a procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves, which you can’t hear, to create an image of part of the inside of the body such as the thyroid. This image can be seen on a monitor.
Why is it performed?
An ultrasound scan of the thyroid is used to evaluate lumps or nodules found on or near the thyroid gland. It can be used to establish if the mass is connected to the thyroid itself or another part of the body. An ultrasound scan cannot diagnose an underactive or an overactive thyroid or if the lumps or nodules are cancerous.
Where is it usually performed?
An ultrasound scan is usually carried out at a hospital, usually in the endocrinology or radiology department. It is a non-invasive procedure that does not require any anesthetic.
How do I prepare?
There isn’t any preparation required for a scan of the thyroid. You may be asked to wear a hospital gown so wearing something easy to change in and out of would be a good idea.
An ultrasound scan of the thyroid does not require any anesthetic so you do not need to be accompanied unless you would prefer to have someone with you. You should be able to drive and return to your normal daily activities straight after the ultrasound.
How long does it take?
A thyroid ultrasound scan usually takes around 30 minutes.
Is it painful?
A thyroid ultrasound scan is completely pain free and non-invasive. You may feel some pressure as the probe is placed on the neck and moved around but you should not experience any pain.
What happens during the procedure?
Ultrasound imaging uses sound waves to create an image of the thyroid, any lumps and/or nodules. It is the same technology used to perform antenatal scans during pregnancy. You will not be exposed to any radiation during the process.
You may be required to wear a hospital gown for the ultrasound testing.
It is important to remember that the doctors carrying out your ultrasound are there to answer any questions you might have at any time and to ensure you remain as comfortable as possible. If you have any questions, this is the time to ask them.
Once in the treatment room, you will be asked to lie on a bed with a pillow to support your shoulders. You will be asked to tilt your neck backwards to allow the best access to the area. A cool lubricant gel may be applied to the surface of the skin to assist the movement of the probe. The ultrasound probe will make contact with the skin and be moved around the neck. This will form images on the monitor allowing the sonographer or radiologist to assess and measure what the ultrasound has enabled them to see. Usually these images will then be passed to your specialist before the results are discussed with you.
What are the possible side effects?
There are no side effects from ultrasound testing. It is non-invasive and does not require anesthetic of any kind. You should be able to drive and return to your normal daily activities following the procedure.
What do the results mean?
An expert qualified to read the images (radiologist) produced by the ultrasound scan will interpret and deliver your results. The radiologist may discuss your results with you at the end of the examination. If an abnormality is found or the results are inconclusive additional tests/examinations may be required, including a possible fine needle aspiration.
Your specialist will discuss your results and any further assessment or treatment that may be required.
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A more technical version of this article is available for professionals
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Anaesthetic – a substance that causes lack of feeling or awareness, dulling pain to permit surgery and other painful procedures
Aspiration – the action of drawing fluid from a vessel or cavity
Endocrinology – the branch of physiology and medicine concerned with endocrine glands and hormones
Inconclusive – not leading to a firm conclusion or result; not ending doubt or dispute
Nodules – small swellings or aggregation of cells in the body, especially an abnormal one
Probe – a handheld device used to form the image on the ultrasound screen
Radiology – the science that uses x-rays or nuclear radiation to diagnose and sometimes also treat diseases within the body
Sonogram – a visual image produced from an ultrasound examination
Thyroid – a small butterfly shaped gland with two lobes situated in the front of your neck. The thyroid gland is one of the glands of the endocrine system. It has two main functions – the control of metabolism – the rate at which all the chemistry of the body works – and the control of growth in early life
Ultrasound – sound or other vibrations having an ultrasonic frequency, particularly as used in medical imaging
- Ultrasound – Thyroid
Date updated: 24/02/20 (V1.1)
Review date: 07/12/20