After general health screens, which are comprehensive health checks testing amongst other things red and white blood cells, liver and kidney function, bone health and cholesterol status, our next most popular tests are for thyroid health. And is it any wonder, when statistics show that 1 in every 20 of us could suffer from a thyroid disorder?
The thyroid is a gland which is situated at the front of your neck and is responsible for producing the hormones which help to govern metabolism; namely thyroxin (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). T3 is either secreted by the thyroid gland or is converted from T4 in our cells, and it is T3 that is biologically active and influences how our bodies function.
So what can go wrong? Thyroid disorders are commonly caused by autoimmune disease when the body’s immune system starts attacking its own cells. In the case of an under-active thyroid the cells in the thyroid gland itself are attacked causing it to under-produce thyroid hormones (Hashimoto’s disease). In an overactive thyroid, the immune system creates antibodies which the thyroid gland responds to by over-producing thyroid hormones (Grave’s disease). As with all hormones, when we have too much or too little it can play havoc with our bodily functions and with the thyroid, the resulting symptoms can be extremely debilitating. Even so, many people dismiss thyroid symptoms, particularly if they’re mild, as simply getting older, or feeling “out of sorts”. Often it isn’t until a blood test shows up a thyroid disorder that a sufferer realises that their symptoms have a cause, and importantly can be treated with thyroid hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or anti-thyroid drugs.
The most common thyroid problem is hypothyroidism which occurs when the thyroid gland under-produces thyroid hormones. This is more commonly known as an under-active thyroid and can leave sufferers with a sluggish metabolism which is not working at the normal rate. Symptoms include lack of energy, feeling cold all the time, depression, constipation, weight gain or an inability to lose weight, dry skin and hair as well as libido and fertility problems.
Less common, but equally debilitating, is hyperthyroidism, when the thyroid over-produces thyroid hormones. Usually known as an over-active thyroid, metabolism increases from its normal rate. Sufferers can feel anxious and irritable, struggle to put on weight or lose weight unintentionally, feel hot all the time, as well as perhaps having loose bowels, heart palpitations and mood swings. The swelling in the neck (goitre) and bulging eyes that are often associated with a thyroid disorder, are also signs of an over-active thyroid.
Blood tests are essential to diagnose a thyroid problem. Thyroid hormones together with thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) are typically measured in most thyroid blood tests. TSH is not actually produced by the thyroid gland, but by the pituitary gland and its function is to stimulate the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones when levels are low. Medichecks’ Thyroid Check tests for levels of TSH and Free T4 (FT4) together. A raised TSH and a low FT4 level indicates that the thyroid is struggling to produce sufficient thyroid hormones and would lead to a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. Conversely, a low TSH and a raised FT4 would indicate an over-active thyroid.
Sometimes a test result is not clear-cut and may reveal that the TSH is raised, indicating that the thyroid is struggling but FT4 is still within the normal range. In these circumstances we suggest regular monitoring of FT4 and TSH so that should the thyroid begin to fail, replacement therapy can begin.
Many people investigating their thyroid opt straight away for our Thyroid Check Plus which as well as TSH, FT4, total T4 and FT3 tests for thyroid antibodies which can give an indication of what has caused the damage to the thyroid. This gives a very comprehensive picture of thyroid health.
Investigating thyroid symptoms can be done easily and affordably at home through our home-to-lab finger-prick blood tests and once you have a diagnosis you can move forward with treatment. Don’t suffer in silence – if you feel that your thyroid could be causing your symptoms then get tested today.