Definition and Overview

The thyroid gland is an important part of the human body, as it produces hormones that help regulate a wide variety of metabolic functions. This gland is shaped like a butterfly, and located at the base of the neck.

When there is an imbalance in the hormones produced by the thyroid gland, various processes and functions within the body can be severely disrupted, resulting in serious conditions. The thyroid hormones regulate the following processes and functions:

  • Digestion
  • Absorption and use of vitamins
  • Carbohydrate modulation
  • Energy production in the mitochondria
  • Metabolism of fat and protein
  • Blood flow
  • Production and release of different hormones
  • Use of oxygen
  • Sexual functions

Conditions caused by an imbalance of thyroid hormones include:

  • Hypothyroidism, or an inadequate amount of thyroid hormones in the body
  • Hyperthyroidism, or the excessive production of the thyroid hormone
  • Lumps or nodules in the thyroid gland
  • Goiter

Thyroid evaluation procedures test how the thyroid gland is working and if there are any imbalances in the hormone production of this gland. The thyroid gland produces different types of hormones, and their levels can be measured by a set of blood tests. Common types of blood tests include:

  • T3, or triiodothyronine
  • T4, or total thyroxine
  • FTI or FT4, or free thyroxine
  • TSH, or thyroid-stimulating hormone

A thorough thyroid evaluation can also include goiter examination, which involves visual inspection and palpation (feeling for the enlarged thyroid gland with the doctor’s hand).

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

People suffering from a combination of the following symptoms might be recommended to undergo a thyroid evaluation procedure:

  • Depression
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Constipation
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Skin problems
  • PMS and dysmenorrhea
  • Unusual weight loss or gain
  • Unusual retention of fluids
  • Reduced ability to concentrate and memorize
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Decreased libido
  • Frequent, inexplicable pain in the muscle and the joints

Thyroid evaluation can also be prescribed to patients currently undergoing treatment for thyroid diseases to monitor their progress. Newborns can also undergo such procedure to determine if they are suffering from congenital hypothyroidism, which can affect their intellectual abilities as they grow older.

How is the Procedure Performed?

Thyroid evaluation can be a group of tests and procedures to determine the presence of thyroid diseases and conditions, as well as to monitor the progress of treatment. It often involves a series of blood tests, which can be performed in a hospital or a clinic. The doctor or nurse will draw a sample of the patient’s blood, which will then be sent off to a laboratory for further testing. For older patients, the doctor will use a syringe to draw blood, but a heel stick will be used for newborns. The heel stick will be used to prick the newborn’s heel, and only a couple of drops will be collected.

Visual inspection and palpation are commonly reserved for patients who might be suffering from goiter. The enlargement of the thyroid gland can be easily observed by checking the patient’s neck from all sides, either by sight or by touch.

If the visual inspection and palpation are not conclusive, the doctor can order a thyroid ultrasound to better observe the structures of the organ.

Possible Risks and Complications

Thyroid evaluation is generally safe, though some patients might experience bruising at the site of the needle insertion. Phlebitis, or the swelling of a vein, is quite rare, but it will usually go away on its own after applying a hot pack or warm compress over the area.

People with bleeding disorders or those taking medication that can thin the blood should inform their doctor before the blood test.

Reference:

  • Thyroid Institute of Utah
  • Endocrine Web: “Thyroid Gland Function Tests”
  • Chernecky, CC and Berger, BJ: “Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures”
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