How to Do a Thyroid Neck Check

An at-home self-exam known as the "neck check" can help you find thyroid lumps or enlargements on your own thyroid gland. These growths may point to any number of thyroid conditions from nodules and goiters to thyroid cancer.

Lumps in the neck can be caused by thyroid disease, and they can also be caused by a variety of other conditions, such as lymph node enlargement, lymphoma, an infectious abscess, or a traumatic injury.

In general, a neck check is not considered the most accurate or reliable way to identify thyroid disease; you can have serious thyroid disease if you have a completely normal neck check, and a major growth can be a sign of an important but easily treatable thyroid problem, such as an iodine deficiency.

A self-check is not a substitute for a medical evaluation of your thyroid gland's structure and function.

how to do a thyroid neck check
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell
1

Stand in Front of Your Mirror

Stand in front of a mirror so that you can see your neck. Be sure to remove any items, such as a scarf, necktie, jewelry, or turtleneck that could block your view of your neck.

If you use a hand-held mirror, direct it to focus on the lower-front portion of your neck.

2

Extend Your Neck Back

Gently extend your neck back, slightly pointing your chin toward the ceiling, so that you can elongate the view of your neck.

3

Take a Sip of Water

With your neck slightly extended back, take a sip water and swallow. This action will move the position of your larynx forward, which will allow you to better visualize the shape of your thyroid gland, helping expose irregularities.

What Does the Thyroid Gland Look Like?

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located in the lower front of the neck, situated just above your clavicle (collarbone) and below your larynx (voice box).

4

Look for Enlargements As You Swallow

As you swallow, look for any enlargements, lumps, protrusions, or anything that is off center.

It is a good idea to repeat the process again, swallowing another mouthful of water, and observing the structures in your neck a few times.

Thyroid nodules are bumps that usually appear round. You may feel a thyroid nodule rolling beneath your fingertips or see it move with your thyroid gland when you swallow. A goiter (swelling) may be seen on one side of the thyroid, and occasionally on both.

5

Feel the Area for Bumps and Enlargement

Gently touch the area around your thyroid gland to try to palpate (feel) any enlargement, bumps, or protrusions.

To differentiate between the thyroid and the other structures of your neck:

  1. Slide your finger down the midline of your neck. The first hard structure you will hit is the thyroid cartilage leading to the Adam's apple.
  2. As you continue to move your finger downward, you will next encounter another bit of cartilage called the cricoid ring, which encircles the trachea (windpipe).
  3. Two digits below this is the thyroid isthmus (the tissue that connects the two lobes). To each side of this are your thyroid glands.
6

Follow Up With Your Doctor

If you find lumps or protrusions of any sort, you should definitely let your doctor know. You may have an enlarged thyroid or a thyroid nodule that require further evaluation.

Follow up diagnostic tests may include an ultrasound, blood hormone tests, or a​ computerized tomography (CT) scan.

7

Value and Limitations of a Neck Check

A neck check can be especially valuable if you have a mass that is growing or changing in size or shape.

Still, this self-exam—like most—has its limitations.

It is not easy to do this self-exam, and a mass can be difficult to detect visually or with your fingers.

Many types of neck and thyroid cancer do not produce any of enlargement, growth, or mass in the neck, so it is important to have regular check-ups with your doctor and to report any symptoms of thyroid disease—even if your thyroid looks and feels completely normal.

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