Can You Test Yourself At Home
The answer is yes, sort of.
While you can’t draw your own blood to check your thyroid function, you can take advantage of several other strategies designed to tell you how well your thyroid is functioning.
It’s important to realize that these tests are not necessarily more accurate than getting your blood tested, however, so I still recommend that you get your blood work from a physician.
These tests can, however, give you an idea as to whether or not your symptoms are related to your thyroid or to something else.
If you have many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism then you should consider using these tests to determine if you need further testing or treatment.
Why It Is Done
Thyroid hormone tests are done to:
- Find out what is causing an abnormal thyroid-stimulating hormone test. This is the most common reason for thyroid hormone tests.
- Check how well treatment of thyroid disease is working. The total thyroxine , free thyroxine , and free thyroxine index values are often used to keep track of treatment for hyperthyroidism.
- Screen newborns to find out if the thyroid gland function is normal. A condition called congenital hypothyroidism can prevent normal growth and development and cause other severe problems, such as intellectual disability, if it is not treated soon after birth.
How Is The Test Used
A thyroid panel may be used to evaluate thyroid function and/or help diagnose thyroid disorders.
Typically, the preferred initial test for thyroid disorders is a TSH test. If the TSH level is abnormal, it will usually be followed up with a test for free T4. Sometimes a total T3 or free T3 will also be performed. Often, the laboratory will do this follow-up testing automatically. This is known as reflex testing and it saves the healthcare practitioner time from having to wait for the results of the initial test and then requesting additional testing to confirm or clarify a diagnosis. Reflex tests are typically performed on the original sample that was submitted when the initial test was requested.
As an alternative, a thyroid panel may be requested by your healthcare practitioner. This means that all three tests will be performed at the same time to get a more complete initial picture of thyroid function.
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How To Get Tested
A thyroid panel requires a blood sample. Laboratory testing involves using a needle to remove a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm. The procedure can happen in the doctors office, hospital, or another laboratory.
In most cases, a thyroid panel is ordered by a doctor. Sometimes the thyroid panel analysis is automatically done by the lab on the original blood sample if an initial evaluation finds abnormal levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone.
What’s Included In A Thyroid Function Test
A thyroid function test will usually measure your levels of:
A more advanced test will also test for the presence of any thyroid antibodies that could be causing an autoimmune disease. This might check your levels of:
- thyroid peroxidase
- thyroglobulin antibodies
- TSH receptor antibodies
It’s important to note that the presence of these antibodies in your blood doesn’t automatically mean you have autoimmune thyroid disease but it can indicate an increased risk of developing one in the future.
Some vitamins and minerals are essential for your thyroid to function properly like vitamin D, vitamin B12, folate , and iron. A nutrient deficiency can sometimes mimic the symptoms of a thyroid disorder. If possible, it’s a good idea to test your thyroid hormones and these nutrients.
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How Does The Thyroid Gland Function
The major thyroid hormone secreted by the thyroid gland is thyroxine, also called T4 because it contains four iodine atoms. To exert its effects, T4 is converted to triiodothyronine by the removal of an iodine atom. This occurs mainly in the liver and in certain tissues where T3 acts, such as in the brain. The amount of T4 produced by the thyroid gland is controlled by another hormone, which is made in the pituitary gland located at the base of the brain, called thyroid stimulating hormone . The amount of TSH that the pituitary sends into the bloodstream depends on the amount of T4 that the pituitary sees. If the pituitary sees very little T4, then it produces more TSH to tell the thyroid gland to produce more T4. Once the T4 in the bloodstream goes above a certain level, the pituitarys production of TSH is shut off. In fact, the thyroid and pituitary act in many ways like a heater and a thermostat. When the heater is off and it becomes cold, the thermostat reads the temperature and turns on the heater. When the heat rises to an appropriate level, the thermostat senses this and turns off the heater. Thus, the thyroid and the pituitary, like a heater and thermostat, turn on and off. This is illustrated in the figure below.
Lab Tests Of Biopsy Samples
In some cases, doctors might use molecular tests to look for specific gene changes in the cancer cells. This might be done for different reasons:
- If FNA biopsy results arent clear, the doctor might order lab tests on the samples to see if there are changes in the BRAF or RET/PTC genes. Finding one of these changes makes thyroid cancer much more likely.
- For some types of thyroid cancer, molecular tests might be done to see if the cancer cells have changes in certain genes , which could mean that certain targeted drugs might be helpful in treating the cancer.
These tests can be done on tissue taken during a biopsy or surgery for thyroid cancer. If the biopsy sample is too small and all the molecular tests cant be done, the testing may also be done on blood that is taken from a vein, just like a regular blood draw.
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Gently Feel The Base Of Your Neck To See If You Can Feel Any Bumps Or Inconsistencies
Finally, you can also do a physical palpation test of your thyroid gland after you do the swallow test.
This exam is somewhat similar to a self breast exam.
You simply feel around the base of your neck where your thyroid gland sits to see if you notice any bumps or lumps on or around your thyroid gland.
This step is certainly not required and I would caution when palpating or feeling your thyroid gland as you may cause more harm than good.
But if you notice something off then you can always double-check with a simple physical exam of your neck.
If you notice anything that looks funny, off, or inconsistent then you will want to follow up with your doctor!
I will explain more about that below.
How The Thyroid Works
Just as the thyroid gland communicates with other organs through the hormone it produces, the pituitary gland in the brain communicates with the thyroid through a hormone it makesthyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH. When the pituitary senses that thyroid hormone levels are too low, it releases more TSH to coax the thyroid into action. When the thyroid is nudged by TSH, it produces thyroid hormonea large proportion of which is thyroxine and a smaller proportion triiodothyronine . The T4 is eventually converted into T3, the “active” form that is taken up by receptors in body cells.
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How To Check Your Thyroid For Any Issues
Both Lee and Rao said there arent any recommendations for routine thyroid screenings in cases that dont involve symptoms or family history, so its important to speak to your doctor if any of these confusing red flags have you feeling off. From there, your doctor can do a series of tests in addition to bloodwork.
Your doctor may start by examining the thyroid with their hands this is called palpation, Rosenfeld said. They will place their fingers on the bottom of the neck while they are facing or standing behind you. You may be asked to drink water to make the thyroid move, to see if they feel any abnormalities.
If anything does feel unusual, Rosenfeld said, your doctor may order an ultrasound to check for any potential thyroid nodules or enlargement of the thyroid. They may also order bloodwork to check specific TSH, T3 or T4 levels or thyroid antibodies, which could signal an autoimmune thyroid condition like Hashimotos disease.
From there, doctors can get a picture of your thyroid health and determine the next steps to take, or check for a separate issue behind your symptoms, such as anemia or a vitamin D deficiency unrelated to the thyroid.
Its important to keep in mind that aside from eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting enough exercise there is no special thyroid diet you should be doing, Rosenfeld said.
You should repeat this a few times to get a good visual. Heres a video that shows exactly how to do the at-home process.
Recognizing Symptoms Of Thyroid Disease
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Can I Take The Test At Home
At-home thyroid test kits are commercially available without a prescription and measure the same hormones as the traditional thyroid panel.
For at-home testing, you prick your finger to get the necessary blood sample. That sample is then mailed to a laboratory that conducts the thyroid panel and makes the results available to you directly.
While at-home testing can measure thyroid levels, it is generally not a substitute for a test ordered by your doctor. If an at-home test detects abnormal thyroid levels, your doctor will likely recommend a new blood sample and thyroid panel to confirm the results. At-home tests for thyroid labs may not be as accurate as tests done in a laboratory.
Drawing Blood For Thyroid Function Tests
Before you get a blood draw to check your thyroid levels, talk with your doctor about any medications youre taking. Also let them know if youre pregnant. Certain medications and being pregnant may influence your test results.
A blood draw, also known as venipuncture, is a procedure performed at a lab or a doctors office. When you arrive for the test, youll be asked to sit in a comfortable chair or lie down on a cot or gurney. If youre wearing long sleeves, youll be asked to roll up one sleeve or to remove your arm from the sleeve.
A healthcare professional, like a technician or nurse, will tie a band of rubber tightly around your upper arm to make the veins swell with blood. Once the healthcare professional has found an appropriate vein, theyll insert a needle under the skin and into the vein.
You may feel a sharp prick when the needle punctures your skin. The healthcare professional will collect your blood in test tubes and send it to a laboratory for analysis.
When the healthcare professional has gathered the amount of blood needed for the tests, theyll withdraw the needle and place pressure on the puncture wound until the bleeding stops. They will then place a small bandage over the wound.
You should be able to return to your typical daily activities immediately.
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Knowing When To Check Your Thyroid
Other Ways To Test Your Thyroid
What about the more traditional ways to assess your thyroid? Those shouldnt be ignored either which is why they are mentioned here.
First on the list is the use of thyroid function testing which can be done by checking your blood.
This gives us an idea as to how much thyroid your gland is producing in total because we can assume that most of the thyroid that is produced by your thyroid gland is being released into your blood.
We can also test how responsive your thyroid gland is to influence from your brain by looking at hormones which are secreted from the brain .
All of this information helps us understand how your thyroid is functioning at the various levels of thyroid regulation.
Each one is important and has value, contrary to popular belief, with some tests being more valuable than others.
Thyroid Function Testing
There is definitely an art to testing the thyroid with many different tests being available.
Ordering the right tests and putting them into the greater context is very important for every thyroid patient.
I recommend that you use thyroid lab testing in conjunction with the other tests I already mentioned.
As it relates to lab tests, Ive broken down the important lab tests below.
You can read more about each of these labs, what they mean, and how to interpret your results in the links provided above.
Each test gives you slightly different information and its important to understand how they all fit together.
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What Is Thyroid Medication
Thyroid Hormone TreatmentLevothyroxine is the standard of care in thyroid hormone replacement therapy and treatment of hypothyroidism. Levothyroxine is equivalent to the T4 form of naturally occurring thyroid hormone and is available in generic and brand name forms.
How do I take levothyroxine? To optimize absorption of your thyroid medication, it should be taken with water at a regular time each day. Multiple medications and supplements decrease absorption of thyroid hormone and should be taken 3-4 hours apart, including calcium and iron supplements, proton pump inhibitors, soy, and multivitamins with minerals. Because of the way levothyroxine is metabolized by the body, your doctor may ask you to take an extra pill or skip a pill on some days of the week. This helps us to fine tune your medication dose for your body and should be guided by an endocrinologist.
For patients with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, a gluten free formulation of levothyroxine is available. Some individuals may have genetic variant that affects how the body converts T4 to T3 and these individuals may benefit from the addition of a small dose of triiodothyronine.
Liothyronine is replacement T3 thyroid hormone. This medication has a short half-life and is taken twice per day or in combination with levothyroxine. Liothyronine alone is not used for treatment of hypothyroidism long term.
Getting Your Thyroid Checked Can Be A New Beginning
If you have some of the symptoms listed, and you just dont feel right, you might want to talk to your physician about it and have your thyroid checked. If your thyroid is the issue, there are a variety of treatments out there that can potentially improve your health and quality of life. It does get better.
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What Does The Thyroid Do
Your thyroid has an important job to do within your body releasing and controlling thyroid hormones that control metabolism. Metabolism is a process where the food you take into your body is transformed into energy. This energy is used throughout your entire body to keep many of your bodys systems working correctly. Think of your metabolism as a generator. It takes in raw energy and uses it to power something bigger.
The thyroid controls your metabolism with a few specific hormones T4 and T3 . These two hormones are created by the thyroid and they tell the bodys cells how much energy to use. When your thyroid works properly, it will maintain the right amount of hormones to keep your metabolism working at the right rate. As the hormones are used, the thyroid creates replacements.
This is all supervised by something called the pituitary gland. Located in the center of the skull, below your brain, the pituitary gland monitors and controls the amount of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream. When the pituitary gland senses a lack of thyroid hormones or a high level of hormones in your body, it will adjust the amounts with its own hormone. This hormone is called thyroid stimulating hormone . The TSH will be sent to the thyroid and it will tell the thyroid what needs to be done to get the body back to normal.
Too Much Or Too Little
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid produces too little of these hormones. This is the most commonly diagnosed form of thyroid disease, affecting nearly 5 percent of Americans. Although it can be hereditary, hypothyroidism is often triggered by autoimmune disorders such as Hashimotos or inflammation called thyroiditis. Symptoms can include:
Feeling cold when others do not
Weight gain, without eating more
Joint pain and muscle weakness
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