Blood tests that measure hormones can help diagnose low thyroid, but according to Mehmet Oz, MD, host of The Dr. Oz Show, thyroid-hormone levels are like shoe sizes — they’re highly individualized, so what’s normal for one woman may be too low for another. That’s why he has recommended simple self-tests to help women gauge their thyroid health. In addition to the traditional symptoms of a sluggish thyroid, including fatigue, mood changes, and weight gain, these tests can help you determine if your thyroid is sluggish.
Take stock of these key symptoms.
Dr. Oz lists sensitivity to cold, persistent fatigue, brittle hair, and weight gain of 15 to 20 pounds over the past two years (especially if you feel you’ve made valiant efforts to slim) as strong indicators of a thyroid shutdown. In fact, he considers them better gauges of an individual’s thyroid function than one-size-fits-all blood tests. “When we tell you your thyroid is normal [on blood tests], we’re really misleading you,” Dr. Oz has stated. “If you have symptoms of thyroid impairment, then you may have some degree of thyroid disease.”
Take your temperature.
The symptoms of a sluggish thyroid can mimic those of other health conditions, so to investigate further, experts recommend a simple at-home test if you’ve been experiencing fatigue, brain fog, or unexplained weight gain.
To do: Before going to sleep, place a basal thermometer by your bed. Immediately upon awakening (before even getting out of bed), take your temperature under your tongue, staying as still as possible. Jot down your temperature. Repeat daily for one to two weeks to find your average. This number is your basal body temperature (BBT), which is directly affected by thyroid hormones, explains integrative medical specialist Richard L. Shames, MD.
A BBT that’s consistently in the 97 degree Fahrenheit range may be a sign that your body isn’t making enough thyroid hormone or that the hormones aren’t doing their job, says Dr. Shames. The reason: thyroid regulates body temperature, so slowdowns can leave you feeling chilly. Dr. Shames suggests bringing the results to your doctor.
Inspect your brows.
Thinning on on the outside of your eyebrows is a classic sign of underactive thyroid, so Dr. Oz recommends a simple brow test.
To do: Hold a pencil in one hand and line it up vertically with the outer corner of one eye, then look in the mirror to see if you have any eyebrow hairs beyond the pencil. “If you’re missing the outside part of the eyebrow, it’s a very important sign that oyu have a sluggish thyroid,” he told his TV audience.
Check your neck.
An estimated 5 percent of people experiencing thyroid illness develop a goiter, an inflammation of the gland, which is often externally visible but typically tends to be painless. To see if you have a goiter, grab a mirror and tilt your chin upward slightly. Then take a close look at the base of your neck. If you see or feel a bulge, your thyroid may be inflamed, and you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider. She can run tests and recommend treatments to restore the thyroid gland’s size and function.
One thyroid symptom you should never ignore:
“If you have high levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol — especially if you’re a healthy eater — ask your doctor to check for hypothyroidism,” stresses Dr. Oz. While there is no official target blood level for LDL, the American Heart Association notes that, in general, lower is better, and studies suggest that people whose LDL level is at or below 100 mg/dL have lower rates of heart attack and stroke.
“Low thyroid hormone is a trigger for high cholesterol, and treating a thyroid problem can reduce heart disease risk,” Dr. Oz, who recommends that anyone experiencing low-thyroid symptoms should get their thyroid tested. If results appear normal and your doctor is dismissive, check with an endocrinologist. These specialists are trained to identify and treat low-level cases of hypothyroidism.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Heal Your Thyroid.