Thyroid Test Home TSH (Underactive) Testing Kit 1 Test Pack
The thyroid can be found in the front of your neck just below the Adam’s apple and is a small butterfly shaped gland where hormones are produced and released into the bloodstream.
The thyroid hormones are very important as they control the rate at which the body uses and stores energy from the food we eat (the metabolic rate).
What causes thyroid problems?
Thyroid problems can result from either of the following causes:
- Overactive thyroid
If the thyroid is overactive it produces too much T3 and T4, this condition is known as hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxicosis.
- Under-active thyroid
If the thyroid is under-active it doesn’t produce enough T3 or T4, this condition is known as hypothyroidism (‘hypo’ means under). An under-active thyroid is the most common thyroid problem and is more common in women and people over the age of 60, though the condition can be present at birth.
What causes hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid)?
In babies it is not known what causes hypothyroidism. In older children and adults the most common cause of hypothyroidism is due to the autoimmune disease, called Hashimoto’s disease, which tends to run in families. An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system, which normally produces antibodies to attack foreign substances (like viruses and other bugs), starts producing antibodies which attack part(s) of the body. In people with hypothyroidism the immune system attacks the thyroid cells as if they were foreign substances.
Other possible causes may include complications from previous thyroid surgery, treatment for previous hyperthyroidism or certain medications, please see our health information page for more information.
What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid)?
In hypothyroidism the thyroid is under-active and so the rate of metabolism slows down. As hypothyroidism usually develops slowly you may have no symptoms until the condition is well advanced. The symptoms you may have might be blamed on old age and can vary in severity but as your metabolism continues to slow, the symptoms should become more obvious. The symptoms may include any of the following:
- Feeling tired and lacking energy.
- A tendency to feel the cold more than healthy people.
- Heart may beat slower.
- Weight gain and difficulty in losing it.
- Irregular or heavy periods.
- A hoarse, croaky voice.
Later symptoms may include constipation, dry, pale skin and dry hair, which may be brittle and break easier.
How are thyroid problems diagnosed?
Your doctor may be able to make a diagnosis from your history, symptoms and an examination, though a blood test should be carried out to confirm the diagnosis. The blood tests will check the levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), T3 and T4 in the blood. These tests are known as thyroid function tests. If the blood tests show levels of TSH are raised then the thyroid gland is under-active, this is because TSH levels rise to try to manufacture more T3 and T4. The same is true in reverse, if the thyroid is overactive and producing above normal levels of T3 and T4 then less TSH is produced.
If inflammation of the thyroid gland is suspected, an ultrasound scan of the gland may also be taken.
What is the treatment for hyperthyroidism (under-active thyroid)?
If your doctor diagnoses you with hyperthyroidism, the treatment you receive will depend on your age, physical condition and the severity of the condition and may include one of the following:
- Medication – this stops or reduces the thyroid from making too much thyroid hormone. The length of time medication is required depends on the cause of the illness.
- Surgery – most of the thyroid is removed and after the operation most people make a full recovery. However, a small amount of people may then go on to develop hypothyroidism.
- Radioactive iodine – this is simple, safe and painless, you simply take a single drink of tasteless radioactive iodine or a capsule. This treatment is aimed at shrinking the thyroid gland and so reducing the activity. The treatment is safe and metabolism usually returns to normal within months.