A widely used test to screen for thyroid gland disorders, and to monitor their treatment.
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PREPARATION: No fasting or other special preparation is needed for this test.
What does this test do?
This test evaluates thyroid gland function by measuring the amount of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) circulating in the bloodstream.
The thyroid gland produces several hormones that are responsible for regulating many bodily functions, including metabolism. The TSH test is an indirect – yet common – way of checking thyroid function. TSH is not produced by the thyroid gland itself, but by the pituitary gland that lies within the brain. The pituitary has sensors that constantly monitor how much thyroid hormone is present in the bloodstream, and regulates its output of TSH accordingly:
Why is this important?
Thyroid disorders are extremely common, especially with advancing age, and are broadly classified into two types:
Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough circulating thyroid hormones. This can cause fatigue, weight gain, constipation, depression, hair loss, and memory loss.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is hyperactive, and produces too much thyroid. Symptoms of this include a rapid heart rate, weight loss, frequent bowel movements,, muscle weakness, poor appetite, menstrual disturbances and infertility.
These symptoms are often slow to develop however, and the gradual and subtle nature of their onset cause many people to not realize anything is wrong. It is estimated that millions of Americans are completely unaware that they have some form of undiagnosed thyroid disease.
What do the results mean?
A TSH level above the normal range indicates that the amount of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream is too low, and may be consistent with hypothyroidism.
A TSH within the normal range indicates that the amount of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream is acceptable, and in most cases indicates normal thyroid function.
A TSH level below the normal range indicates that the amount of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream is too high, and may be consistent with hyperthyroidism.