TSH Levels and Hypothyroidism
Understanding the relationship between TSH levels and hypothyroidism can be a difficult task.
TSH stands for "thyroid-stimulating hormone" and hypothyroidism is a condition where a person has abnormally low
thyroid hormone production. In this article we will discuss how TSH levels and hypothyroidism are
related as well as other important information you should know.
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TSH Levels and Hypothyroidism - What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck that produces two important hormones,
thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3). These hormones have a major influence on metabolism, regulation of body
temperature, heart rate and other key bodily functions. When the thyroid gland does not produce adequate amounts of
the mentioned hormones, a person can be considered to have hypothyroidism. This condition can lead to serious
health problems if left untreated.
How can you detect hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism tends to develop gradually over many years and people who have an under active thyroid initially
do not experience any signs or symptoms. For that reason the disorder often remains undetected until the patient
starts developing symptoms of hypothyroidism. With that being
said, blood tests that measure TSH levels can detect an under active thyroid before a person starts experiencing
any hypothyroidism symptoms.
The thyroid gland and the TSH levels of T-4 and T-3 it produces are controlled by the
hypothalamus. If the hypothalamus detects very low levels of thyroid hormones, it stimulates the
pituitary gland to produce more TSH.
If the thyroid gland fails to produce enough hormones, the pituitary gland will make even more TSH. This is why
people with an under active thyroid will have low levels of thyroid hormones and high TSH levels.
What are normal and abnormal TSH levels?
Although normal TSH levels vary slightly from person to person, most doctors suggest that the normal range is
between .5 and 5.0 μIU/ml. Using this scale, if you have TSH levels below .5 you have an
overactive thyroid and could be considered to have HYPERthyroidism. If you have a TSH
level above 5.0 you have an under active thyroid and could be considered to have
This .5 to 5.0 scale has recently came under fire though and in 2002 the American Association of Clinical
Endocrinologists (AACE) instituted a new TSH level reference range of .3 to 3.0 μIU/ml. The AACE
believed that this new range would result in more accurate diagnosis for people with mild thyroid abnormalities
that haven't been treated.
* On a side note, normal TSH levels in children are higher than in adults and tend to drop gradually over
Depending on your measured TSH levels, a doctor will decide
whether it's necessary to take further blood tests or not. For example, if a patient has TSH levels above the
normal range the doctor typically will take a blood test that measures the levels of thyroid hormones as well.
This process helps to confirm a diagnosis of hypothyroidism.
Blood tests that measure TSH levels are also used to diagnose what's known as subclinical hypothyroidism.
Subclinical hypothyroidism is characterized by normal levels of both T-4 and T-3 hormones but abnormally high TSH
In closing, TSH levels and hypothyroidism have a unique relationship. High TSH levels reveal
that you may have an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism) and don't have enough hormone circulating. Low
TSH levels reveal that you may have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and have too much thyroid