Prepare for a Thyroid Ultrasound

What is a thyroid ultrasound?

Prepare for thyroid ultrasound

An ultrasound is a painless medical imaging exam which uses high-energy sound waves to take pictures of tissue/organs within the body. A thyroid ultrasound allows us to characterize the thyroid gland, the surrounding tissues, and any nodules which may be present.

What is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the middle of the neck. It sits in front of the major airway in the neck, below the larynx (voice box). The thyroid gland makes 2 hormones, called T3 and T4, which control how the body uses and stores energy. 

Hypothyroidism Disease

What is a thyroid nodule?

  • Thyroid nodules are very common; over half of all people have at least one thyroid nodule. The vast majority of these nodules are benign and non-cancerous, and many do not even affect thyroid function.
  • However, there is a small chance that a nodule contains cancerous tissue. Therefore, it is important to fully evaluate the nodule using imaging and laboratory tests as your physician advises.
  • One of the first steps to evaluate the nodule is a thyroid ultrasound.

Is a thyroid ultrasound uncomfortable?

  • No, a thyroid ultrasound is not uncomfortable.
  • During the exam, you will be asked to lay flat on your back on an exam table and possibly turn/position your head to facilitate the exam.
  • A trained ultrasound technician or physician will apply a clear, water-soluble gel to your neck and use a hand-held instrument called an ultrasound probe (pictured above) to capture pictures of your thyroid and the surrounding neck tissue.

How should I prepare for the ultrasound? What should I wear to my appointment?

  • Wear comfortable clothing that exposes your neck, to allow the ultrasound technician or physician to easily examine the neck. Examples of clothing that might make the ultrasound examination difficult include collared shirts, turtlenecks, etc. 
  • You do not need to make any special diet or medication changes for this exam.
  • For more details, see Ultrasound Exam: How to Prepare | UCSF Radiology

How long will the ultrasound take?

  • From the time you arrive, plan on spending about 1 to 1.5 hours total at the imaging center to finish your exam.
  • The ultrasound itself should take 30 minutes to 1 hour.

What to expect after your thyroid ultrasound

  • Your ultrasound will be interpreted by a board-certified radiologist.  The results will generally be available to your primary care provider and in MyChart by the end of the work day.
  • Your primary care provider will instruct you on further steps.

Additional Resources