Your thyroid is a small gland in your throat that handles many important activities. Its main function is to create hormones that manage many physical and emotional responses, including your metabolism. Although this gland is so important to your body, it needs help to operate. The pituitary gland, located under the brain, creates TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone. In tandem, these two glands contribute greatly to your body’s healthy functioning.
What is a TSH blood test looking for?
A TSH test measures the amount of thyroid stimulating hormone in your blood. Because this hormone is required for healthy thyroid functioning, unusual levels give clues about potential thyroid issues. If there is too much TSH, it may mean that your thyroid is under-performing and causing hypothyroidism. If there is not enough TSH, it may mean that your thyroid is over-performing and causing hyperthyroidism. By measuring and monitoring your TSH levels, your doctor can learn why your thyroid may not be properly functioning.
When should my TSH levels be checked?
A TSH test can be used to monitor existing and known thyroid disorders. Your doctor may also suggest this test to help diagnose hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. When you are exhibiting symptoms relating to these disorders, it could be a good time to take the test. Below is more information about each, and symptoms that may suggest one is present.
What should my TSH levels be?
Normal levels for your thyroid stimulating hormone should fall between 0.4 and 5.0 milliliters per litre. Certain factors may change ideal levels including pregnancy, age, weight, or some chronic illnesses. Your doctor is the best resource to learn what your optimal TSH levels should be.
What if my TSH levels are too high?
When your thyroid does not produce enough hormones, your pituitary gland tries to compensate and produces more TSH. This is an attempt to stimulate your underperforming thyroid. When this happens, hypothyroidism can occur. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Aching muscles and joints
- Fertility problems
- Swelling of face and neck
- Dry and itchy skin
- Hair loss
- Feeling cold
- Memory and concentration problems
- Heavy or unusual periods in people who menstruate
What is the treatment for hypothyroidism?
If you are suffering from hypothyroidism, your doctor may prescribe levothyroxine. This is a synthetic hormone that replaces the missing hormones your thyroid is not producing. Once taking this medication, you may still need regular TSH tests to monitor how your body is responding to the medication. There are no side effects when taking this medication in proper doses, but too much can cause shakiness, insomnia, heart palpitations, or increased appetite. If you are taking levothyroxine and are experiencing any of these symptoms, check in with your doctor.
Other steps you can take to manage hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism can sometimes be tied to a poor diet or missing nutrients in your body. Improving your overall health can augment other treatments. Some ways to do this include:
- Avoiding sugar. Overconsumption of sugar can lead to inflammation, and inflammation can negatively affect your thyroid hormones.
- Taking probiotics. Ingesting probiotics or fermented foods and drinks can counteract some intestinal side effects of hypothyroidism. Some good ones to try include yogurt, kefir, and kombucha.
What if my TSH levels are too low?
When your thyroid produces an excess of hormones, hyperthyroidism occurs. This could be caused by Graves’ disease, Plummer’s disease, or thyroiditis. While your thyroid is over-working, your pituitary gland slows down TSH to compensate. Some symptoms of an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, include:
- Weight loss, not connected to diet
- Increased appetite
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Shaky hands or tremors
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Sensitivity to heat
- Difficulty sleeping
- Thinning skin
- Inflamed thyroid gland, also called a goiter
What is the treatment for hyperthyroidism?
Treatment for hyperthyroidism depends on the root cause. Your doctor will also take into consideration the severity of your illness, your age, your physical health, and potentially other factors. Some treatments for hyperthyroidism include:
- Anti-thyroid medications. Certain medications can suppress thyroid production, gradually bringing your hormone levels back into balance. Because these medications can cause liver damage, always carefully follow your doctor’s suggested dosage.
- Radioactive Iodine. This is an oral medication that is absorbed by your thyroid gland. Over time, your thyroid gland will shrink and your symptoms should lessen.
- Surgery. In cases where a patient isn’t a good candidate for other hyperthyroidism medications or treatments, surgery is an option. This option is less preferable than the others as it involves permanently removing your thyroid. Because of this, patients who undergo surgery need to take medications moving forward to supplement the hormones needed by your body.
Other steps you can take to manage hyperthyroidism
Changing your diet can assist in treatment for hyperthyroidism. By avoiding foods that are high in iodine, you can help manage this illness. For a low-iodine diet, foods that you should avoid include:
- Iodized salt
- Dairy products
- Beef and poultry (small amounts are OK)
- Grain products such as bread and pasta (small amounts are OK)
- Egg yolks
Since a vitamin B-12 deficiency can go hand-in-hand with hyperthyroidism, it may help your symptoms and overall health to take a B-12 supplement. In this case, speak to your doctor to determine the best course of action.
How do I prepare for the TSH blood test?
No fasting or other preparation is required before this test. If you take a medication related to your thyroid already, ask if there are any scheduling considerations. You may need to wait to take your medication until after the test. Because other medications, supplements, and vitamins can also affect test results, be sure to alert your doctor to any you are taking. They can then suggest the best course of action to prepare for an accurate test.
Your optimal thyroid health
With over 3,500 tests available, Your Health Lab offers many options and resources for maintaining your thyroid health. Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider to decide which is right for you.