Thyroid Problems

Diagnosis & Tests

There is no general agreement regarding whether to screen older adults with no symptoms of thyroid disease. Recent guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force note insufficient evidence for routine screening for thyroid disease in adults. However, all older adults with a recent decline in cognitive or functional status should be tested for thyroid disorders.

Hypothyroidism

If you already have noticeable symptoms of hypothyroidism, your healthcare provider should test for the disease with a TSH blood test as soon as possible. Blood tests can determine whether you have hypothyroidism. 

Hyperthyroidism

To test for hyperthyroidism, a healthcare professional typically checks the levels the thyroid hormones in your blood. They can also use imaging tests to diagnose hyperthyroidism and determine how much of your thyroid gland is affected.

Hyperthyroidism should be treated as soon as possible. Untreated, it can lead to other health problems such as:

  • Osteoporosis (“thinning bones”)
  • Heart failure
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Weight loss

Thyroid Nodules and Thyroid Cancer

If you have a nodule or nodules, a healthcare professional will need to examine them. An ultrasound (an imaging study that uses high-frequency sound waves) is often used to determine how many nodules there are, to check their shape and structure, and to find out whether they are cancerous. To determine whether a nodule is cancerous, a healthcare professional will insert a very thin needle into the nodule and use it to draw out a sample of the cells inside for analysis. This procedure is known as “aspiration”.

Your healthcare provider may also do a “thyroid scan,” which involves injecting radioactive iodine into a vein in your arm. Once the iodine reaches your thyroid gland, your doctor can get images of your thyroid and the nodule.

Updated: June 2017