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The Thyroid Function Tests You Need To Know About

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Human Thyroid GlandPHOTO: NERTHUZ/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

One of the most influential endocrine glands in your body is your thyroid. This little butterfly-shaped organ in your neck is responsible for producing hormones that are used by every single cell in the body. Alarmingly, over 30 million Americans are estimated to have a thyroid disorder, and most of them are women. At least 15 million cases go undetected.1

Thyroid hormone is so important that without enough of it, it’s virtually impossible to maintain the balance and production of all other hormones. Adequate production of thyroid hormone is required to make necessary amounts of growth hormone, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, insulin, brain neurotransmitters, and many others.

The reality is that all these hormones work in concert, and the thyroid is a critical part of the symphony. But how do you know if you’re producing too much or too little thyroid hormone?

Sleeping StudentPHOTO: DJTAYLOR/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Thyroid Symptoms

Often, poor thyroid function is accompanied by very common, tell-tale symptoms. However, the difficulty is that the symptoms tend to overlap with other conditions that may not be directly related.

Symptoms associated with underactive (hypo) thyroid function typically include some or all of the following: fatigue, weight gain, inability to lose weight, dry skin, poor digestion, hair loss, brittle nails, cold hands and feet, lack of energy, tendency to bruise easily, depression, change in menstrual cycle, memory problems, and loss of hair on the outer third of your eyebrows.

Hypothyroidism is the most common form of thyroid dysfunction. Although less common, hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormone) is just as serious and may include some of the same symptoms as hypothyroidism. Common symptoms of an overactive thyroid tend to include rapid or irregular heartbeat, inability to gain weight, protruding or bulging eyes, irregular or no menstrual cycle, inability to concentrate, nervousness, irritability, difficulty sleeping, increased sweating, and tremors, among others.

Thyroid PalpationPHOTO: IMAGE POINT FR/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Assessing Thyroid Function

In order to confirm a thyroid condition, analysis and diagnostics must be performed. Methods of determining thyroid function include physical examination, basal body temperature, and laboratory testing. Measuring your body temperature in the morning is a simple and sometimes imprecise method of checking thyroid function.

While this method can be used to help identify a dysfunctional thyroid, it may not be extremely useful in determining how or why the thyroid isn’t working well or if the problem is truly occurring in the thyroid.

Another investigative method is physical examination—looking at and feeling the thyroid. This method can be used to identify the presence of nodules, which may need to be looked at via ultrasound. Again, the limitation of this method is the inability to identify thyroid hormone production and how your cells are using it.

Blood testing is really the primary way to know how well the thyroid is performing. While blood test results represent only a snapshot in time and will change throughout the day, week, or a woman’s cycle, the results tend to be a very good reflection of how the thyroid is operating.

Unfortunately, many doctors include only a few markers of thyroid production on routine work-ups. Most commonly, you’ll only see TSH. If you’re lucky, T3 and T4 will also be included in your blood test. It’s rare that insurance will cover any other thyroid-specific markers. But thyroid function is more complicated than that.

 

Human Thyroid GlandPHOTO: NERTHUZ/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

One of the most influential endocrine glands in your body is your thyroid. This little butterfly-shaped organ in your neck is responsible for producing hormones that are used by every single cell in the body. Alarmingly, over 30 million Americans are estimated to have a thyroid disorder, and most of them are women. At least 15 million cases go undetected.1

Thyroid hormone is so important that without enough of it, it’s virtually impossible to maintain the balance and production of all other hormones. Adequate production of thyroid hormone is required to make necessary amounts of growth hormone, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, insulin, brain neurotransmitters, and many others.

The reality is that all these hormones work in concert, and the thyroid is a critical part of the symphony. But how do you know if you’re producing too much or too little thyroid hormone?

Sleeping StudentPHOTO: DJTAYLOR/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Thyroid Symptoms

Often, poor thyroid function is accompanied by very common, tell-tale symptoms. However, the difficulty is that the symptoms tend to overlap with other conditions that may not be directly related.

Symptoms associated with underactive (hypo) thyroid function typically include some or all of the following: fatigue, weight gain, inability to lose weight, dry skin, poor digestion, hair loss, brittle nails, cold hands and feet, lack of energy, tendency to bruise easily, depression, change in menstrual cycle, memory problems, and loss of hair on the outer third of your eyebrows.

Hypothyroidism is the most common form of thyroid dysfunction. Although less common, hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormone) is just as serious and may include some of the same symptoms as hypothyroidism. Common symptoms of an overactive thyroid tend to include rapid or irregular heartbeat, inability to gain weight, protruding or bulging eyes, irregular or no menstrual cycle, inability to concentrate, nervousness, irritability, difficulty sleeping, increased sweating, and tremors, among others.

Thyroid PalpationPHOTO: IMAGE POINT FR/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Assessing Thyroid Function

In order to confirm a thyroid condition, analysis and diagnostics must be performed. Methods of determining thyroid function include physical examination, basal body temperature, and laboratory testing. Measuring your body temperature in the morning is a simple and sometimes imprecise method of checking thyroid function.

While this method can be used to help identify a dysfunctional thyroid, it may not be extremely useful in determining how or why the thyroid isn’t working well or if the problem is truly occurring in the thyroid.

Another investigative method is physical examination—looking at and feeling the thyroid. This method can be used to identify the presence of nodules, which may need to be looked at via ultrasound. Again, the limitation of this method is the inability to identify thyroid hormone production and how your cells are using it.

Blood testing is really the primary way to know how well the thyroid is performing. While blood test results represent only a snapshot in time and will change throughout the day, week, or a woman’s cycle, the results tend to be a very good reflection of how the thyroid is operating.

Unfortunately, many doctors include only a few markers of thyroid production on routine work-ups. Most commonly, you’ll only see TSH. If you’re lucky, T3 and T4 will also be included in your blood test. It’s rare that insurance will cover any other thyroid-specific markers. But thyroid function is more complicated than that.

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