What Does an Elevated TSH Level Mean
TSH stands for thyroid-stimulating hormone. A test of this hormone level within your bloodstream can indicate a thyroid condition or disease. Different supporting tests like the T3 and T4 scans can pinpoint hormone production and certain thyroid-related autoimmune diseases.
When is the TSH test used?
There are six different applications in which this test is used:
- To diagnose a thyroid condition in symptomatic patients
- Testing infants for elevated TSH
- Monitoring the effectiveness of treatments in patients with a thyroid condition
- To diagnose and monitor female infertility problems
- Determining pituitary function
- Preventative screening for adults with thyroid conditions
The screening capability of this test is debatable, but doctors will use it in patients showing signs of either an underactive or overactive thyroid. They will also use it on patients who display visible signs of an enlarged thyroid gland.
While the results are mixed when it comes to testing presumably healthy patients; the test does have proven effectiveness if:
- It is included as part of the newborn screening program
- Used in patients over the age of 60
- Monitoring a patient’s current treatment protocol
- A thyroid disease has left a patient without a thyroid gland
These instances align with the American Thyroid Association’s clinical practice guidelines.
What do the results mean?
An elevated TSH level indicates one of three things:
- Underactive thyroid
- A problem in the pituitary gland
- A thyroid disorder in a patient who had a diseased gland removed
In all three cases, elevated TSH means that you have an acute or chronic thyroid malfunction. Whether high or low, an abnormal TSH level points to either a deficiency or excess in the amount of hormone available to the body; the test does not indicate the reason why.
There is a difference between the amount of hormone available to the body and the amount of hormone produced by the body. Subsequent testing, preferably by an endocrinologist, can tell you more about why this malfunction is occurring.
This is particularly valuable information for patients who have borderline test results. With the right guidance, elevated TSH can normalize and remain stable, but this approach is usually most effective before the condition reaches an advanced stage.
There are three external factors that can affect your TSH test results:
- Medications like aspirin and hormone replacement therapy can temporarily alter test results.
- Biological changes like increased stress and pregnancy can lead to elevated TSH for short periods of time.
- Adjustments to your thyroid medications can affect TSH for up to two months.
Discuss these factors with your doctor or specialist prior to testing for accurate results.
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