The thyroid is a glandular, butterfly-shaped organ that sits in our throat, close to our trachea and larynx. Its primary function is to produce and secrete the hormones T3 and T4 in a process that relies on a substance known as iodine. T3 and T4 play major roles in our metabolism, tissue growth, protein and nervous system development, as well as reproductive health. The thyroid and its production and release of T3 and T4 are heavily influenced by thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced in the pituitary, a gland found in our brain.
If your doctor suspects you may have a thyroid issue, it’s likely they’ll recommend a thyroid function test. This is a collection of four blood tests that assess levels of different substances in your blood; your doctor may order any combination of them, depending on what they think the issue at hand is.
If the results are abnormal, it’s likely your physician will follow up your blood work with a thyroid ultrasound. This test may also be performed if your doctor suspects your thyroid could be enlarged. The exam’s primary purpose is to look for thyroid cancer, a disease whose incidence has tripled in the last three decades. Doctors believe this is likely due to the fact that specialists are using the ultrasound more frequently.
The thyroid ultrasound will look for nodules, inflammation, as well as abnormal lymph nodes in your thyroid; all three can cause your thyroid to swell or cause difficulty swallowing–two potential signs of thyroid cancer. The procedure itself is quite simple: you’ll be asked to lie flat on a table, and extend your head and neck. Your doctor will apply a gel, which will enable the ultrasound probe’s sound waves to penetrate your skin.
If your ultrasound technician identifies an anomaly, your doctor will likely order a biopsy to determine whether the nodule is malignant or benign. And the thyroid ultrasound is intersecting with artificial intelligence: a study published over the summer showed that a novel AI could make useful biopsy recommendations based on images of thyroid ultrasounds.
The Ezra full-body scan may identify nodules or other actionable conditions in the thyroid. If you’re interested in learning more, you can do so here.