Most often diagnosed in women, thyroid disease affects millions of Americans each year. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid produces hormones that aid in the digestion and absorption of food. Whether a patient experiences symptoms of a hyperactive thyroid or a sluggish thyroid, it’s important to regularly check her thyroid hormone levels to ensure optimal health.
Although the only way to diagnose a thyroid hormone imbalance properly is through testing the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the bloodstream, watch for symptoms to discuss with your doctor. This is especially important because not every physician tests TSH levels during your regular annual blood panel unless you exhibit specific risk factors such as family history.
Thyroid problems display two distinct sets of issues. Hyperthyroidism, or the overactive production of thyroid hormones sometimes known as Graves' disease, can cause weight loss, decreased appetite, difficulty concentrating, heart palpitations and intolerance to heat. Hypothyroidism, or the under-active production of thyroid hormones sometimes known as Hashimoto's disease, can cause weakness, weight gain, depression, joint pain, paleness and brittle hair. While these symptoms are common in other illnesses, make your doctor aware of them.
Begin checking your thyroid levels at age 30 and every five years thereafter to ensure the thyroid is producing the correct amount of hormones. If thyroid issues run in your family, let your doctor know and test your thyroid levels beginning at age 20, with follow-up blood tests as often as yearly. Request thyroid blood testing immediately upon experiencing symptoms because teenagers can develop thyroid imbalances and suffer from symptoms.
If your initial thyroid blood test indicates an issue, your doctor can prescribe a number of treatment options. Controlling levels through medication is typical, but in extreme cases of Graves’ disease, your doctor my recommend radioactive isotope surgery to effectively kill the hyperactive thyroid. If you opt for the latter treatment, you must take thyroid replacement drugs indefinitely to control hormone levels and have blood testing yearly.
When pills are used to treat thyroid imbalance, you can expect follow-up blood tests within six weeks of starting medication to determine if the dosage is adequate. You may repeat TSH level testing every six week thereafter until your doctor finds the correct dosage to balance your thyroid. Once balances, testing occurs yearly, but may occur every six months.
If you experience additional symptoms at any time while taking medication, schedule an appointment for a new thyroid level test. You also must continue regular TSH blood testing if your doctor weans you off thyroid medication to make sure your thyroid problem does not return.