A thyroid swallowing test is a simple self-examination you can carry out at home. It can help to indicate whether your thyroid is enlarged or has lumps that may need further medical attention.
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The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of the neck, right below your Adam’s apple. It is an endocrine gland that produces and releases hormones into the bloodstream.
The thyroid is an important gland that produces and releases some hormones, especially thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones help to control and regulate many bodily functions, such as digestion and metabolism, growth and development, heart rate, body temperature, menstrual cycles, and breathing.
The thyroid gland is stimulated by the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is released from the pituitary gland.
These thyroid hormones need to be within an optimal range. Thyroid disorders can affect the number of thyroid hormones produced and released, negatively affecting health.
The most common disorders of the thyroid include:
Hyperthyroidism: an overactive thyroid that produces an excessive amount of thyroid hormone
Hypothyroidism: an underactive thyroid that doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone
Thyroid nodules: lumps that grow on the thyroid gland, which can be benign or cancerous
Goiter: an enlarged thyroid gland
Thyroiditis: swelling of the thyroid gland
Several factors can cause hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Completing a thyroid self-exam is relatively straightforward. Techniques include a swallowing test, visual inspection of the thyroid gland size, and palpation of the thyroid.
If you do notice any abnormalities, such as enlargement, swelling, or bumps, when examining your thyroid, don’t panic. Most of the time, goiter and thyroid swelling is harmless.
However, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. They can order blood tests and other scans to help determine the exact cause of the thyroid problem. Be aware that doctor's tests are more accurate than self-examinations to evaluate thyroid function.
A thyroid self-examination is a simple, painless, and quick way to identify potential abnormalities in your thyroid gland. One way to self-examine your thyroid is through a swallowing test, also known as a neck test.
To carry out a swallowing test, you’ll need a glass of water and a mirror. You may wish to follow these steps:
Identify the location of the thyroid. The thyroid sits between the collarbone and Adam's apple. Removing clothing or jewelry from your neck may help you see the thyroid more clearly.
Face the mirror and tilt your head slightly backward. This will give you a better view of your entire neck.
Take a sip of water and swallow it. As you do this, watch the area around the thyroid closely to determine whether there are any enlargements, swellings, or bumps that protrude outwards or parts that look asymmetrical and off-center. You might have a thyroid nodule if you notice a lump that moves up and down when you swallow.
Repeat this process a few times and watch the thyroid carefully each time.
You may be able to observe certain thyroid abnormalities by looking in the mirror and inspecting the size of your thyroid.
If the entire thyroid gland appears swollen, it may indicate the presence of diffuse goiter. A diffuse goiter is usually caused by an autoimmune condition, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease.
If you notice unusual bumps that protrude out of the chest and are on one or both sides of the thyroid gland, it may indicate the presence of thyroid nodules. In most cases, thyroid nodules are benign but can also be cancerous.
Palpation is when you use your fingers to feel your thyroid. Palpation can help indicate the presence of some abnormalities, such as bumps and nodules, swellings, or other asymmetrical elevations.
Fortunately, the thyroid gland is relatively easy to palpate. You may wish to palpate your thyroid by following these steps:
Find your thyroid: To locate your thyroid, stand up with your back straight and your chin slightly raised. Flex your neck forward, and relax. Start by placing one of your fingers on the top of your chin. Carefully slide this finger down the middle of your neck, past your Adam's apple but above your collarbone.
Feel the thyroid: Once you have found your thyroid, place your index and middle fingers on the thyroid, your fourth and fifth fingers next to the other fingers, and palpate by gently applying pressure to the thyroid. Try to determine how it feels because this can help indicate some problems. For example, the thyroid gland may be soft in Graves’ disease, firm in Hashimoto’s, and tender in thyroiditis.
Add on a swallowing test: While palpating your thyroid and pressing the area, doing another swallowing test is a good idea. Keep palpating the area as you swallow to feel for any additional bumps.
An enlarged thyroid (goiter) can occur due to an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
The main causes related to hypothyroidism are:
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland
Treatment for hyperthyroidism
Some medications, such as lithium
Thyroiditis: inflammation of the thyroid gland
The main causes related to hyperthyroidism are:
Graves’ disease: an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland
Excessive iodine intake
Taking too much thyroid hormone medication
Tumors and thyroid nodules
An enlarged thyroid can cause difficulty swallowing, also known as dysphasia. It can also cause tightness in the throat area.
This happens because an enlarged thyroid can compress body parts used in swallowing, such as the esophagus.
If a nodule is impacting your ability to swallow, you may be able to get surgery to remove it.
A thyroid swallowing test and palpation of the thyroid area can help indicate whether there may be abnormalities in your thyroid structure and functioning.
You should see your doctor if you notice any abnormalities or concerns following your thyroid self-examination. While thyroid swallowing tests are simple and quick to carry out, the downside is that you shouldn’t use them as a diagnostic tool for a thyroid disorder.
An easy way to check your thyroid when you swallow is to tilt your head back slightly, drink a mouthful of water, and observe your thyroid through a mirror as you do it. Although you can’t diagnose a thyroid problem using this method, it may help to indicate the presence of thyroid enlargement or nodules.
If your thyroid is swollen, it may look like a large lump at the base of the neck. You may also experience other symptoms that go alongside thyroid swelling, such as tightness in the throat and difficulty swallowing.
It is possible to feel large thyroid nodules when you swallow, as they may press on the esophagus and make it difficult to swallow. Not everyone experiences this, however. In addition to feeling them, they can also often appear as a lump that moves up and down when you swallow.
A thyroid test can be performed by swallowing a glass of water, visually inspecting the size of the thyroid, and palpating (feeling) the area around the thyroid with your fingers.
Goiter | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Anatomy of the thyroid | Standford Medicine
Hypothyroidism (Underactive thyroid) | National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Thyroid nodules: When to worry | Johns Hopkins Medicine