Why Your Healthcare Provider Examines Your Neck and Throat
When your healthcare provider gently presses on the outside of your throat and neck
during an office visit, it may seem like a brief and unimportant part of your exam.
But checking the throat and neck can help your provider diagnose many illnesses and
disorders. These can range from a routine case of strep throat to a life-threatening
cancer. Read on to learn what your provider is looking for.
One of the things your healthcare provider checks for in an exam of the neck and throat
is swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes). Your lymph nodes are located all over your
neck and around your ears. They are normally small and soft. When you feel well, they're
about the size of corn kernels. But they can get bigger and may be sore when they
begin fighting an infection.
Gently pressing the outside of your throat also helps your healthcare provider find
a swelling in your thyroid. This is an important gland with most of its flesh off
to either side of your Adam's apple. Swelling could mean this key gland is not working
correctly. An overactive thyroid may make you feel constantly jumpy. An underactive
thyroid may make you feel sluggish. Your healthcare provider may also ask you to swallow
during the thyroid exam.
Checking the back and sides of the neck can tip off your healthcare provider to muscle
spasms or problems in your spinal column. These might be pinching a nerve and causing
pain. Your healthcare provider can also find other chains of enlarged lymph nodes.
Finally, examining your neck can reveal possible circulatory problems. Your healthcare
provider uses 2 fingers on each side of your neck to feel your carotid pulses. The
right and left carotid arteries supply blood to your brain. Weak pulses could show
a problem with the aortic valve or with the aorta. The aorta is the main blood vessel
coming from the heart. Your provider may listen to the blood flow in the carotids
with a stethoscope. This can tell them if you may be in danger of suffering a stroke.
A clear carotid makes a "thump, THUMP" noise like a heartbeat. But a carotid can be
dangerously clogged by cholesterol plaque. This is the waxy substance that builds
up on artery walls and helps lead to heart attacks. A clogged carotid makes a telltale
"whoosh, whoosh" noise. This warns your healthcare provider to do more testing.