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How Accurate Is The TSH Blood Test?

Most people with hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism receive a TSH test to help diagnose their condition.  The TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) is produced by the pituitary gland, and it helps to regulate the secretion of thyroid hormone.  So while many people think it’s a thyroid hormone, it’s actually a pituitary hormone. The normal reference range of the TSH varies depending on the lab.  Many labs use the reference range between 0.3 and 3.0, although some use a range between 0.3 and 4.5.  Some labs will even go as high as 5.0, which means that according to such a lab someone who has a TSH of 4.5 would be considered normal with regards to their thyroid health, while a doctor which uses a different lab would label the person as having hypothyroidism.

Based on the above information, it should then come to no surprise that there is some controversy as to whether the TSH is an accurate test.  Many medical doctors swear by this test, as they use this test solely to determine whether a patient has a thyroid condition.  On the other hand, some medical doctors recommend the TSH test to their patients as protocol, but don’t rely on this alone.  A big problem is that many people who fall within the reference ranges have symptoms which would indicate they have a thyroid condition.

Getting back to the reference ranges, part of the problem stems from how they determine the reference ranges in the first place.  These ranges were based on the values of a few hundred people who supposedly didn’t have a thyroid condition.  The problem with this is that while these people might have been considered to be normal, some might have been borderline hypothyroid or hyperthyroid, which obviously will affect the results.

I personally think the TSH has some value, but I agree it can’t be completely relied on to diagnose a thyroid condition.  So while I recommend this test to my patients, and personally obtain the TSH test when monitoring my thyroid health, I also recommend other thyroid blood tests as well.  A big problem with thyroid blood tests in general, but especially with the TSH, is that too many medical doctors rely completely on the test results, and don’t consider the symptoms of their patients.

I tend to take the opposite approach, as while I do value the thyroid blood tests, I pay more attention to the symptoms of the patient.  This is especially true when the patient is symptomatic, yet has negative lab results.  I’ve seen too many times where a patient had a negative TSH test, and has moderate to severe symptoms which indicate a thyroid problem, and yet the doctor refuses to give the patient medication to manage the symptoms.  While my goal is to try restoring the person’s thyroid health whenever possible, many people do need to take thyroid medication on a temporary basis, but are deprived of this by their doctors.

Of course even when the TSH does detect a thyroid condition, it doesn’t actually determine the underlying cause of the disorder.  This is where the other tests I’ve mentioned in previous posts and articles come into play, such as the Adrenal Stress Index, male or female hormone panel, and hair mineral analysis test.  These tests help to determine some of the underlying causes of the thyroid condition, which is important for anyone who wants to follow a natural thyroid treatment protocol.

Getting back to the TSH test, just because your levels are within the normal reference range doesn’t mean you have a thyroid gland which is functioning properly.  Plus, even when the TSH and other tests to determine thyroid function are accurate, let’s not forget these tests are measuring the end-stage process.  In other words, someone doesn’t test positive for these blood tests until they actually have hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.  On the other hand, many people who don’t have a thyroid condition (at least not yet) will have positive findings on tests such as the ASI, hormone panel, and hair mineral analysis.  So these other tests can help to prevent a thyroid condition from developing if used correctly.

It would be great if these “alternative” tests would be recommended to patients on an annual basis as a way to prevent thyroid conditions from developing, as well as other conditions.  So while I’m definitely not opposed to people continuing to receive the TSH test, I do think other tests also need to be performed to help diagnose a thyroid condition.  Doing this would also help to prevent many thyroid disorders and autoimmune thyroid conditions from developing.