In this article:
- What does the thyroid gland do
- Benefits and limitations of the self-exam
- How to do a thyroid self-examination
What does the thyroid gland do?
The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located at the base of your neck, above the collarbones and below the voice box (larynx). Weighing in at only 20 grams, it packs a big punch.
The thyroid is a powerhouse whose job is to make and store hormones which are secreted into the blood and then delivered to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormones help to regulate your body's metabolism in the form of blood pressure, blood temperature, and heart rate. They help you use energy, stay warm, and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working properly.
Benefits and limitations of the self-exam
You can perform a simple at-home neck check to help with early detection. This self-exam can help you find lumps or enlargements that may indicate a thyroid condition Note that a neck check is not the most reliable way to identify thyroid disease. Even if your neck looks normal on the surface, something more serious could be lurking. If you have risk factors for thyroid diseases (such as a family history), it is a good idea to check your neck periodically. Any growth is a sign that you should seek professional help.
How to do a thyroid self-examination
Below are easy steps for examining your thyroid:
1. Face a mirror.
Position yourself or the mirror to focus on the lower-front portion of your neck, and remove anything that could block the view of your neck.
2. Tilt your head.
Extend your neck back slightly, pointing your chin toward the ceiling, while still being able to see into the mirror without trouble.
3. Find your thyroid.
Put your finger on tip of your chin and slide that finger down the midline. The first structure you hit is the top of the thyroid cartilage, which despite its name, is not where the thyroid gland is situated. Keep moving your finger down your neck to the Adam's apple. Just beyond you will feel the cricoid cartilage. Continue downward; below the cricoid ring are the first two rings of the trachea on top of which lies the thyroid gland.
4. Take a sip of water.
Keeping your neck extended backward, take a sip of water and swallow.
5. Look for lumps.
As you swallow, with your neck still extended back, examine your neck for any visual irregularities including enlargements, lumps, protrusions, or imbalances.
6. Touch the area.
Gently feel the area around your thyroid for any enlargement or lumps. Thyroid nodules usually appear round in shape and move/roll with the gland when you swallow. A goiter can be found on one or both sides of the thyroid.
7. Repeat the process.
Do the tilt-swallow-look process a few times to observe the structures in your neck.
If you find any irregularities, talk to your doctor about next steps. Finding lumps, nodules, or swelling does not mean that you have a thyroid disorder or cancer.
Follow up diagnostic tests may include an ultrasound, blood hormone tests, or a computerized tomography (CT) scan.
A Note from Paloma Health
An at-home neck check can be valuable if you have a mass that growing or changing in shape and size. However, an exam of this kind has its limitations. Hypothyroidism can often be hard to detect visually or with your fingers.
If you suspect thyroid issues, we recommend you complete a blood test even if your thyroid visually looks normal. This diagnostic helps you to fully understand how your thyroid is working and if there is a need for a further evaluation of your thyroid function.