Role of ultrasonography in the differential diagnosis of thyrotoxicosis: a noninvasive, cost-effective, and widely available but underutilized diagnostic tool

Endocr Pract. Jul-Aug 2012;18(4):567-78. doi: 10.4158/EP11170.RA.


Objective: To explore the use of ultrasonography as a diagnostic alternative to the traditional "gold standard" imaging study of nuclear scintigraphy in the evaluation of thyrotoxicosis.

Methods: We review the relevant literature and share our own experience to highlight the promising role of ultrasonography in thyrotoxicosis. In addition, we present a diagnostic algorithm suggesting liberal use of ultrasonography in the evaluation of thyrotoxicosis.

Results: Ultrasonography has proved effective not only in the differentiation of Graves disease from other types and causes of thyrotoxicosis but also in the detection of subtle thyroid nodules. The latter role is emphasized in light of the recent observation of an increased risk of occurrence of papillary thyroid carcinoma in patients with Graves disease.

Conclusion: Ultrasonography is a cost-effective, noninvasive, portable, and safe imaging modality in the evaluation of thyrotoxicosis, both for physiologic assessment and for detection of nonpalpable thyroid cancers that may elude identification on physical examination and nuclear imaging studies. Although thyroid scintigraphy remains a standard radiologic study, thyroid ultrasonography can be a practical alternative in many cases and the primary imaging modality in some situations such as during pregnancy and lactation and for evaluation and management of amiodarone-induced thyrotoxicosis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Trees
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Graves Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Graves Disease / economics
  • Graves Disease / physiopathology
  • Health Care Costs
  • Humans
  • Lactation
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / diagnostic imaging
  • Pregnancy Complications / economics
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Thyroid Gland / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thyroid Nodule / diagnostic imaging
  • Thyroid Nodule / economics
  • Thyroid Nodule / physiopathology
  • Thyrotoxicosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thyrotoxicosis / economics
  • Thyrotoxicosis / etiology
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Color / adverse effects*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Color / economics
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / adverse effects
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / economics