Thyroid problems can cause lots of different symptoms — including problems with sleep, energy levels, memory and moods. If you’re concerned about a thyroid problem and you can’t get to the doctor right away, a home TSH test may offer you some clues about your thyroid health.
Read on to learn more about these tests — including how they work, what they can tell you and when it’s time to see a doctor.
What Does the Thyroid Do?
Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It’s part of your endocrine system — the system that uses hormones to control everything from your growth to your moods.
Your thyroid makes two hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones travel all over your body to help regulate your metabolism, moods, sleep patterns, body temperature and more. They also help many organs like your heart, brain and muscles work properly.
What Are the Symptoms of Thyroid Problems?
There are two main types of thyroid problems:
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) means your thyroid hormone levels are too high.
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) means your thyroid hormone levels are too low.
Some signs or symptoms that you may have a thyroid condition include:
- Trouble with focus or memory
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Feeling depressed, irritable or anxious
- Trouble regulating body temperature
- Changes in heart rate or menstrual cycle
- Dry skin or brittle nails and hair
Many of these symptoms can also happen with other health issues. But if you notice any of these symptoms and you’re concerned about a thyroid issue, talk with your doctor to find out what’s going on. And if you’re not able to see your doctor right away, an at-home thyroid test may be a good place to start.
How Do Home Thyroid Tests Work?
You can order at-home thyroid test kits online. Companies will send these kits directly to your home and include everything you need to perform the test yourself. First, you do a finger prick to collect a small blood sample — just a few drops on a test strip or in a small tube. Then you mail the sample back to the lab in the provided packaging. You can usually get results within a few days via an online portal.
At-home thyroid test kits measure your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels and look for certain antibodies that can affect your thyroid function. But the exact tests vary depending on the company and kit you choose.
What Do My Home TSH Test Results Mean?
Remember, a home test can’t get you a diagnosis — no matter what your results say, you’ll have to see your doctor to find out for sure. Most at-home thyroid test kits provide a guide to help you interpret your results. Here’s a brief overview to help you understand what the numbers mean.
TSH is the most important hormone to check when you’re worried about a thyroid problem. Normal TSH levels are between 0.5 and 5 mIU/mL (milli-international units per liter of blood).
Your body releases more TSH when your thyroid hormone levels are low, and less TSH when your levels are high — so high TSH usually means you have hypothyroidism, and low TSH usually means you have hyperthyroidism.
Normal T3 levels range between 100 to 200 ng/dL (nanograms per deciliter of blood). Normal levels for a test called free T3 range between 2.3 to 4.1 pg/mL (picograms per milliliter of blood). T3 tests are usually used to diagnose hyperthyroidism. High T3 levels may mean you have an overactive thyroid.
Normal T4 levels range between 5 to 11 μg/dL (micrograms per deciliter of blood), and normal free T4 levels range between 0.9 to .7 ng/dL (nanograms per deciliter). T4 is the main form of thyroid hormone that circulates in your bloodstream. When combined with TSH, T4 levels are very useful for diagnosing all types of thyroid issues. High T4 levels usually mean you have hyperthyroidism, and low T4 levels usually mean you have hypothyroidism.
TPO and Tg antibodies
Doctors can look for thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies and thyroglobulin (Tg) antibodies to diagnose autoimmune thyroid diseases. For example, Grave’s disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
Where Can I Get an At-Home Thyroid Test Kit?
For more accurate test results, look for providers that have certifications from the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) and College of American Pathologists (CAP).
Some popular providers of thyroid test kits include:
The exact tests vary, so make sure to read the details before choosing a test kit. Kits can cost between $60 and $120 and health insurance doesn’t cover them. But you may be able to use FSA or HSA funds to pay for them.
Another option for testing your thyroid without seeing a doctor is direct-to-consumer (DTC) thyroid tests from providers like HealthLabs. With this option, the provider gives you a laboratory request slip. Then you take the lab slip to a local lab to get your blood drawn. You can usually get results back in a few days.
Bottom Line: Are Home TSH Tests a Good Idea?
At-home thyroid test kits are a quick and convenient way to look at your thyroid health. But there’s no need to take these tests if you don’t have symptoms of a thyroid problem.
If you do have symptoms of a thyroid problem, taking one of these tests isn’t a bad idea. But it’s also important to talk with your doctor — especially if you get an abnormal result. Your doctor will likely recommend a repeat test at a lab, because self-performed tests may be less accurate. And if you do have a thyroid problem, you’ll have to work with your doctor to get the treatment you need.
- “Thyroid Function Tests” via American Thyroid Association
- “Thyroid Tests” via National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
- “At-Home Thyroid Testing Kits: What We Know…and What We Don’t” via Columbia Surgery