TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone is a pituitary hormone and not a thyroid hormone as the name may imply. The function of this hormone is to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce and release more thyroid hormone, when the body lacks adequate amounts of thyroid hormones: T3 and T4. So, what exactly causes the TSH levels in the blood to rise?
Some dysfunction in the thyroid gland or pituitary gland can cause the thyroid hormone levels in the blood to drop. Low levels of thyroid hormone in the blood causes the pituitary gland to release more and more TSH, so that the levels of thyroid hormone will be maintained. Thus, high TSH levels in the body indicate hypothyroidism. Moreover, a low TSH level in the body indicates the opposite; hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms in Adults
The symptoms usually vary from one person to another, however, let us have a look at some of the common symptoms of high TSH levels in the blood. In the earlier stages of hypothyroidism, the person may undergo symptoms like:
- Mild depression
- Difficulty in waking up
- Weight gain and weight loss issues
- Brittle nails
- Intolerance to cold
- Decreased sex drive
- Abnormal periods
- Roughening of hair and skin
- Hair loss
- Memory loss
If these symptoms are not treated on time, they can result in myxedema coma, which can further conduce to loss of normal brain function and death. An underactive thyroid gland results in decreased body activity including the brain, thereby causing one to feel tired and sleepy. Moreover, low thyroid production and function can result in decrease in energy consumption, as a result of which more energy is stored conducing to weight gain.
Symptoms in Babies and Children
Newborns are screened for hypothyroidism when born as a routine screening procedure. Babies born with hypothyroidism will show symptoms like jaundice, frequent choking, drowsiness, abnormal muscle tone, constipation, and puffiness in the face. In older children, the symptoms include diminished mental development, delay in arrival of permanent teeth, late onset of puberty, etc.
Since the symptoms can vary drastically, it is difficult to determine if a person is suffering from hypothyroidism, unless a blood test is carried out. The normal TSH levels range from 0.4 to 4.0 mIU/L. Anything above the level of 4.0 results in the condition of hypothyroidism. If the level exceeds 6.0, then a diagnosis of hypothyroidism is made. Doctors use the TSH test to determine diagnosis of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. The method of determining the level is referred to as IRMA (immunoradiometric assay).
Treating high TSH levels after the diagnosis has been made is the next important step. Usually a thyroid replacement therapy is conduced, wherein synthetic thyroid hormone medications like Unithroid, Synthroid, Levothroid, and Levoxyl are used. These medications are taken orally and reset the hormonal imbalance. One may experience full effect of the medication, one or two weeks after the medicine has been taken. Conditions of weight gain, high cholesterol levels, etc., can also get reversed by using these medications.
The American Thyroid Association recommends TSH screening for all adults above the age of 35, once every 5 years. Pregnant women are tested for TSH levels and it's considered as a standard part of pre-natal care. Moreover, if you feel you are suffering from any of the above mentioned symptoms, do get a blood test done to rule out any possibility of hypothyroidism.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.