There aren’t a lot of functional medicine doctors (which aim to look for root causes instead of treating symptoms) in my community, and the ones that are here are often difficult to get an appointment with. That’s why when I started having some weird symptoms (which turned out to be due to Lyme disease), I had to be creative about getting access to doctors and lab tests.
Two resources that I have grown to love are SteadyMD, which allows me unlimited access to my functional medicine M.D. via calls, texts and video chat, and EverlyWell, which offers lab tests that can be run at home without doctors orders.
Before I found SteadyMD, I drove 16+ hours (round trip) to see my previous doctor for initial testing. It showed that my thyroid was a little low among other things, so I tracked my progress via independent testing while I looked for a local provider to follow-up with.
Active infections like Lyme can stress the thyroid, so it’s not surprising that mine was struggling. (1) However, even when other things aren’t going on, low thyroid function is super common. According to The American Thyroid Association, one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime, but about 60% of those affected will never know. (2) The numbers for men are better, but not by much.
4 Reasons I Use Home Lab Tests
For those struggling with feelings of exhaustion, brain fog, moodiness or weight gain, the identification of a thyroid issue (if present) is obviously very helpful in getting the most out of life. Thyroid testing at home can be a convenient starting point for getting personalized information and education about hormones, omega 3 status, and more.
However, if a tests shows a problem, it’s important to work with a doctor you trust to correctly interpret the test, make a diagnosis, and make treatment/lifestyle recommendations.
In other words, it doesn’t replace the role of a physician, but I’ve found it helpful in several ways:
1. Checking progress between appointments
Before I found SteadyMD, I drove 16+ hours (round trip) to see my previous doctor for initial testing. It showed that my thyroid was a little low among other things, so I tracked my progress via independent testing while I looked for a local provider to follow-up with. In other words, it was very helpful while I was between doctors, and I still order tests to keep track of my progress.
Instead of making two doctor’s appointments to request a lab and then go over the results, I can make just one appointment and bring in the results to discuss. Also, if you’ve ever had labs drawn and then gotten a huge bill later on, you understand the value of knowing the price upfront.
EverlyWell’s prices are usually comparable to the out-of-pocket cost of the same test done through insurance. Some tests (particularly the Thyroid Test and Cholesterol & Lipids Test) might actually be partially covered by insurance, but you’ll need to check with your insurance company to know for sure. It can also often be paid for using a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA).
It doesn’t get any more convenient than getting to skip the waiting room and do the test at home.
4. Quick Results
There’s no need to wait for a follow-up appointment to get your results, they’ll be securely emailed to you as soon as they’re ready.
In this post, I’ll share some popular methods used for checking thyroid health at home, plus what experts say about them.
As always, this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition. Although home lab tests can provide personalized information and education, it’s essential to work with a qualified, knowledgeable practitioner regarding any questions or concerns you have about your health. Please see my full disclaimer here.
What is the thyroid gland and what does it do?
Located in front of the windpipe, this butterfly-shaped organ releases two hormones – triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). T3 and T4 interact with almost every cell in our bodies, helping to regulate our metabolism, breathing, heart rate, menstrual cycles, body temperature, blood pressure, and even our mood.
One aspect of thyroid health that many people pay attention to is its impact on metabolism. According to EverlyWell, “Thyroid hormone stimulates cells to create energy, including heat.” When the thyroid is underproducing, it lowers overall cellular energy, leading to fatigue, feeling cold, and sometimes weight gain among other symptoms.
When the thyroid is overproducing, it can increase metabolism, causing unintended weight loss, rapid heart rate, anxiety and other issues.
What are some symptoms of hypothyroidism? (Underactive thyroid)
- Weight gain
- Muscle/joint weakness, aches, or tenderness
- Anxiety, depression or mood changes
- Difficulty concentrating or impaired memory function
- Feeling cold
- High cholesterol
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Irregular or heavy periods (3)
What are some symptoms of hyperthyroidism? (Overactive thyroid)
- Appetite change (decrease or increase)
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Frequent bowel movement—perhaps diarrhea
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heat intolerance
- Increased sweating
- Anxiousness, nervousness or irritability
- Light menstrual periods—perhaps even missed periods
- Muscle weakness
- Fertility problems
- Shortness of breath
- Unexpected or unusual weight loss
- Thinning hair
- Itching and hives
- Shaking or trembling
- Possible increase in blood sugar (4)
Challenges With Thyroid Testing
I’ve already mentioned triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), but in order to understand testing there’s one more hormone to be aware of – Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).
TSH is released by the pituitary gland, not the thyroid, so why is it important? Because when things are working properly, the pituitary calculates how much T4 (the primary thyroid hormone) is in the body and then sends a signal (thyroid stimulating hormone) to make more as needed. Some doctors just look at TSH to evaluate how the thyroid is doing, but according to some experts there’s a problem with that approach.
Eren Berber, M.D., writes:
It’s important to understand that just because your TSH test comes back normal, it does not rule out the possibility of you being hypothyroid. If your symptoms still point to a hypothyroid diagnosis, your doctor may measure the level of free T4 (the portion of total T4 thyroid hormone that is available to your tissues) in your bloodstream.
Many people who are hypothyroid actually have high levels of TSH and low levels of T4—your doctor may refer to this as “primary hypothyroidism.” This occurs because the pituitary gland has recognized that the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones. As a result, the pituitary releases more TSH in an effort to stimulate the thyroid into producing hormone. But if the thyroid isn’t working properly, it won’t react to the signals from the pituitary. ” (5)
In other words, if your TSH levels are good but you still have symptoms of low thyroid function, it may be because the pituitary is sending the right message but the thyroid is not responding properly. That’s why many doctors insist on measuring free T3 and T4 in addition to TSH.
Why I like EverlyWell’s Thyroid Test Kit
- It measures TSH, free T3, free T4, which gives a fuller picture than TSH alone.
- It also measures thyroid peroxidase antibodies. TPO’s are often elevated with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is the most common type of hypothyroidism in the United States.
- Each test is processed in a CLIA-certified lab reviewed by a board-certified physician
Also, as I mentioned above, it also has some advantages in terms of cost, convenience, and quick turnaround time for results.
How To Order An EverlyWell Test Kit
- Order the kit here
- When the kit arrives, register the barcode on the box at EverlyWell.com
- Place a few drops of blood on your test card using the tools and instructions in the kit (It’s not that bad, promise)
- Return the kit using the prepaid shipping label
- Watch your email for your results
- Follow up with your healthcare provider with any questions you have or to go over your results in general
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some of the most common questions I’ve received over the years. If there’s a question that you think should be included, please let me know in the comments!
Is Checking Thyroid Function With A Thermometer Accurate?
Sometimes called the “thermostat” of the body, the thyroid plays a role in keeping us warm. Historically, doctors have used basal body temperature (taken when we first wake up) to track how well our “thermostat” is working.
So, is this method accurate? According to naturopathic endocrinologist Dr. Alan Christianson, author of The Adrenal Reset Diet, the short answer is no. Here are the two main reasons:
- Other factors affect our body temperature – Hormones such as leptin, the time of year, circadian rhythm, and diet are a few examples
- Although 98.6F is often touted as the “ideal” number, it’s actually an average based on readings from a large group of people – In other words, some healthy people in the group ran cooler than 98.6, while others ran hotter. What’s optimal for each of us will be slightly different.
Here’s the long answer in case you’re interested:
That said, for years I’ve take my temperature for fertility tracking purposes. When I first started my waking temperature was really low and I had symptoms associated with low thyroid function such as feeling cold and tired most of the time. As I began to change my lifestyle and eat better I felt my energy return and, interestingly, my average body temperature rose, too.
My takeaway is that it’s probably not all that helpful to compare yourself with an average, but tracking how your normal changes over time can give you (and your care provider) insights into upward or downward trends in thyroid health.
Are there any other techniques for checking thyroid health at home?
Yes. In the video below, Dr. Meena Murthy of St. Peter’s Hospital explains how to visually check the thyroid at home.
Again, only a doctor can diagnose a disease or condition. It’s essential to work with a qualified, knowledgeable practitioner regarding any questions or concerns you have about your health.
1. Paparone, PW (1995) Hypothyroidism with concurrent Lyme disease.
2. American Thyroid Association. General Information.
3. Medical News Today. 12 Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Disease.
4. EndocrineWeb. Hyperthyroidism Symptoms.
5. EndocrineWeb. Hypothyroidism Diagnosis.