What is Hypothyroidism and When Should You Get Routine Testing?

January 12, 2012

What is hypothyroidism and when should you get routine lab testing for hypothyroidism? According to the National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service,* a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH), hypothyroidism (also referred to as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroiditis) is the result of the thyroid gland failing to produce enough thyroid hormone to meet the body’s needs. As far as routine screening, you may need to be proactive, starting with knowing about the disorder and its symptoms.

What Are the Thyroid Hormones?  

Triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) are two hormones that the thyroid gland produces. These thyroid hormones affect such things as metabolism, brain development, breathing, heart and nervous system functions, body temperature, muscle strength, skin dryness, menstrual cycles, body weight, and cholesterol levels.

Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), made by the pituitary gland, regulates T3 and T4 hormone production.

Is Hypothyroidism Common? 

Millions of Americans have some type of thyroid disease. The problem is that for many, the symptoms go undiagnosed.

Thus, people should be aware of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, which are:

  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Puffy face
  • An intolerance to cold
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Constipation
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Decreased sweating
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual periods and impaired fertility
  • Depression
  • Slow heart rate

If you find that you have one or more of these symptoms, you should look into thyroid blood testing.


What About Routine Thyroid Testing? 

According to the American Family Physician, in 2004 the U.S. Preventative Task Force updated their 1996 recommendations regarding thyroid screening, saying, “The USPSTF concludes that the evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against routine screening for thyroid disease in adults.”**

As you can see from other prominent organizations mentioned in this medical news source as well, it seems each has its own view on what age is appropriate for routine thyroid testing:

  • The American Thyroid Association recommends measuring thyroid function in all adults beginning at age 35 years and every five years thereafter with more frequent screening for high-risk or symptomatic individuals.
  • The American College of Physicians recommends screening women older than 50 with one or more of the general symptoms that could be caused by thyroid disease.
  • The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends TSH blood testing in women of childbearing age before pregnancy or during the first trimester.
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that physicians be aware of the symptoms and risk factors for postpartum thyroid dysfunction and evaluate patients when indicated.
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends against routine thyroid screening in asymptomatic patients younger than age 60.

Work with your doctor regarding routine lab testing but know that the choice is always yours and that accurate, affordable and confidential direct-to-consumer lab testing is available.


*National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service 

**American Family Physician