Thyroid Tests

How is thyroid disease discovered?

As with any disease, it is important that you watch for the early warning signs. However, only your doctor can tell for sure whether or not you have thyroid disease. He or she can measure the amount of thyroid hormones in your blood, as well as look at the structure and function of your thyroid gland. If a nodule is found, your doctor can test whether or not it is cancerous.

What are the signs and symptoms of thyroid disease?

When your doctor examines you for thyroid disease, he or she should first ask about your symptoms and then check for physical signs. Your doctor will ask questions about your memory, emotions, or menstrual flow, and then check your heart rate, muscles, skin, and thyroid gland.

Which blood tests will my doctor use?

After a physical examination, your doctor may examine certain hormone levels in your blood. The most common tests check the levels of thyroid hormones (T4 and T3) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Your doctor may also perform a test with an injection of thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH). If your doctor suspects Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease, he or she will probably test you for antithyroid antibodies or thyroid stimulating antibodies.

What does the radioactive iodine uptake show?

Iodine is an important building-block for thyroid hormones. Your doctor may give you a small amount of radioactive iodine and then measure the amount absorbed by the thyroid gland. If the thyroid absorbs a lot of this iodine, you may be hyperthyroid. Low iodine uptake may signal hypothyroidism or thyroiditis.

Why is the structure of my thyroid important?

Examining the structure of your thyroid gland and the surrounding area tells your doctor about a lump (nodule) which may be cancerous or enlargement of the thyroid (goiter).

Which tests look at the structure of my thyroid?

  • A thyroid image (or scan) shows the size, shape, and function of the gland. It uses a radioactive chemical, usually iodine or technetium, which the thyroid absorbs from the blood. A special camera then creates a picture, showing how much chemical was absorbed by each part of the gland. The test shows the size of the thyroid and tells whether lumps are hot (usually benign) or cold (either benign or malignant). The scan is frequently done at the same time as the radioactive iodine uptake.
  • In needle aspiration biopsy, a small needle is inserted into the nodule in an effort to suck out (aspirate) cells. If the nodule is a fluid-filled cyst, the needle often removes some or all of the fluid. If the nodule is solid, several small samples are removed for examination under the microscope. Over 90% of the time, this testing tells the doctor whether the nodule is cancerous or not.
  • Ultrasound uses high-pitch sound waves to find out whether a nodule is solid or filled with fluid. About 10% of nodules are fluid-filled cysts, and they are usually not cancerous. Ultrasound may also detect other nodules that are not easily felt by the doctor. The presence of multiple nodules reduces the likelihood of cancer.