Having an elevated TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level indicates that your body has insufficient levels of the thyroid hormone being produced and so more stimulation is required. The condition can be caused by inflammation of your thyroid or failure of your thyroid (known as autoimmune thyroiditis). It can also be a direct result of certain medical treatments like thyroid removal (partial or complete) and abnormal activity in your pituitary gland. Insufficient thyroid hormone production is known as hypothyroidism.
Some patients with high TSH levels may be asymptomatic (experience no symptoms). Commonly, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms: weakness, exhaustion, brittle or dry hair, weight gain, intolerance to cold, hair loss, facial swelling, hoarseness, depression, muscle aches, constipation, decreased sexual drive, irritability, muscle cramps, memory problems, changes in menstrual cycle and dry skin. The severity of your symptoms is largely dependent on the severity of your condition and the duration of time that your body has been without proper amounts of the hormone.
Symptoms in Babies
Potential symptoms of hypothyroidism in newborn babies include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), abnormally large tongue, puffiness in the face and frequent choking. If left untreated, the disease may progress and cause difficulties in feeding and diminished growth and development. Additional symptoms may include marked drowsiness, constipation and abnormal muscle tone.
If left untreated, high TSH levels may cause permanent physical or mental impairment.
Symptoms in Teenagers and Children
Teenagers and children generally exhibit symptoms like late onset of puberty, diminished mental development, short physique due to poor growth and a delay in getting permanent teeth. If left untreated, symptoms may become severe and could even result in a goiter (enlarged thyroid).
Rarely, the disease may advance to a condition called myxedema, which can be fatal. Symptoms include slowed breathing, low body temperature, decreased blood pressure, coma and even death.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hypothyroidism occurs most prevalently in women aged 50 and older, although anyone can develop the condition. Additional risk factors include family history of autoimmune disease, history of treatment with radioactive iodine (which inhibits thyroid function), history of anti-thyroid medication use, history of receiving radiation to the upper chest/neck area and surgery on the thyroid.
Treating high TSH levels is usually done with a thyroid replacement. Synthetic thyroid hormone medications include Synthroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid and Levothroid. It is taken orally and can restore the hormonal balance. The medication generally takes one or two weeks to begin taking full effect, and it may also reverse weight gain and lower your cholesterol levels.
While treatment will usually be necessary for the rest of your life, your doctor will need to monitor your TSH levels periodically in case any dosage adjustments are required.