Hypothyroidism is a condition that is caused by an under-active thyroid gland resulting in the inability of the thyroid gland to produce sufficient thyroid hormone. This hormone is responsible for controlling the body’s metabolic rate. Thyroid deficiency can affect all body functions and this can range from mild to severe forms. There is a general slowing of all physical and mental processes in individuals with hypothyroidism.
Diagnosis for this condition can be tricky as symptoms initially, are usually vague and may go unnoticed for several years. It is common to have cases of hypothyroidism, wherein the diagnosis is mistaken for other conditions or in some cases it may be left undiagnosed. Treatment for this condition is centered on restoring a normal metabolic state by replacing the lacking hormone so it is imperative that the hypothyroidism diagnosis is done as early in the disease state as possible.
The diagnosis of hypothyroidism starts with the patient’s observations, complete medical history, physical examination, thyroid function tests as well as supporting diagnostic tests. Hypothyroidism diagnosis is done through these various options :
- TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) stimulation test – With hypothyroidism, diagnosis is made when the TSH level is high while the T4 (thyroxine – thyroid hormone) level is low. Such is the case as the pituitary gland responds to the low T4 level by releasing more TSH to stimulate the thyroid gland. This is the single best hypothyroidism diagnosis test and the most widely used. This is done through a blood test.
- Thyroid hormone level (T3 and T4) – This is to test for secondary or tertiary hypothyroidism when the TSH level is normal or low but the T4 or T3 level is also low. The under-active thyroid here is a result of under-stimulation of the pituitary gland, the latter being the problem. T4 or T3 levels are considered based on its relationship to TSH, with discrepancies suggesting a problem.
- Complete medical history and physical examination – This is done before the diagnosis is made so that hypothyroidism can be checked against a possible history of irradiation, surgery, or medication administration that may have caused the condition. Family history for the presence of thyroid diseases is also checked. Physical examination can provide evidence of the existence of the disease, revealing the presence of the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism.
- Basal body temperature – Temperature of the individual with the suspected hypothyroidism is monitored for 3 consecutive days. Subnormal temperature may support the hypothyroidism diagnosis.
- Radioactive Iodine Uptake Scan – Hypothyroidism diagnosis can be done through this to detect an underactive thyroid. If this diagnostic test shows that too little iodine is absorbed by the thyroid gland, then this is suggestive of hypothyroidism.
- Thyroid antibodies – The presence of anti-thyroid antibodies leads to the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis resulting in hypothyroidism.
Since hypothyroidism is caused by the inability of the thyroid gland to secrete the thyroid hormone, the diagnosis of hypothyroidism is based almost exclusively upon measuring the amount of thyroid hormone in the blood. Prompt hypothyroidism diagnosis would lead to early and proper treatment, thereby avoiding complications of this disease. This will also allow the individual to live as normally as possible and positively cope with hypothyroidism.