In a normal year, April showers bring spring flowers. May typically signals an end to cold and flu season—spurred on by warmer temperatures, plenty of sunshine, and lots of natural vitamin D. This year, a global pandemic has disrupted the season. Sales of allergy medication are being replaced by runs on asthma medication, masks, and potential treatments for COVID-19. Despite nicer weather, people across the U.S. are staying inside and sheltering in place. It’s changed everyday life, buying habits, and prescription use.
In previous years, our most popular prescriptions during the month leading up to the unofficial kick-off to summer have historically been beta blockers and thyroid medications. These drugs take the top spots in May, according to our data:
- Levothyroxine (generic Synthroid), a thyroid agent
- Metoprolol (generic Lopressor), a beta blocker
- Carvedilol (generic Coreg), a beta blocker
- Armour Thyroid (brand-name thyroid hormone), a thyroid agent
- Atenolol (generic Tenormin), a beta blocker
“Beta blockers are mainly for reducing high blood pressure,” says Dawn Shill, Pharm.D., a pharmacist for the Veteran’s Affairs Healthcare System in Anchorage, Alaska, specializing in anticoagulation and liver disease. “But they can have several different functions as well. Some are selective for heart failure, some are for tremors or anxiety. These prescriptions can serve different purposes, though maintaining heart health and blood pressure are their main uses.”
Beta blockers are so known because they block the effects created by the hormone epinephrine, or adrenaline. This allows for a patient’s heartbeat to slow down and blood pressure to be reduced.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that half of all adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension—which may account for some of their popularity. Untreated it puts you at risk for heart attack and stroke, two leading causes of death. So if you’ve been experiencing high blood pressure and haven’t spoken to your doctor yet, now is the time.
Why is metoprolol popular?
Metoprolol is the most popular beta blocker on SingleCare by a landslide. “It’s the most well studied for heart failure and has the dual indication as being for both heart failure and blood pressure, so it is the one that is most often prescribed,” Dr. Shill explains.
RELATED: What is a beta blocker?
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. That’s a lot of people who need thyroid medication. This number includes people dealing with hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) as well as those dealing with hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid).
“Thyroid drugs are used for thyroid conditions including hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s” says Inna Lukyanovsky, Pharm.D., a functional medicine practitioner, gut health expert, and author of Digestive Reset.
Hashimoto’s disease is actually the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It is an autoimmune condition that makes a person’s immune system attack the thyroid. Other causes of hypothyroidism might include an over-response to treatment for hyperthyroidism, thyroid surgery, radiation therapy, or various medications, to include lithium.
Left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause fatigue, constipation, weight gain, muscle weakness, depression, and impaired memory, among other things. But the ATA says that up to 60% of people with thyroid conditions aren’t even aware their thyroid is malfunctioning. If you’ve experienced any of the above symptoms, you may want to ask your physician about checking your thyroid levels. You may also want to talk to your doctor if you’ve been taking a thyroid agent but still aren’t feeling better.
Why is levothyroxine popular?
Levothyroxine, the generic of Synthroid, is the most popularly prescribed thyroid agent on SingleCare. “Most of the time generic drugs become the most prescribed in the class because of the cost effectiveness and more clinical research,” Dr. Lukyanovsky explains. “In the case of levothyroxine, it also has better clinical data compared to other Synthroid generics.”
Why are beta blockers and thyroid agents popular in May?
Sure, these medications treat two very common conditions. But why are they so popular in May? Dr. Shill speculated that the end of the winter cold and flu season is responsible for the rise. Meaning, there’s a reduction in fills of antibiotics and some of the other medications that may exhibit more seasonal popularity. Otherwise, she pointed out that both of these medications tend to be long-term prescriptions and “neither of these conditions are really worse any time of the year.”
Dr. Lukyanovsky thought the rise in fills at this time of year could have something to do with metabolic changes. “Seasonal increases in certain medications are common due to the weather changes, immune system changes, temperature changes, and particularly now metabolic changes with the new spring season,” Dr. Lukyanovsky explains. “That’s why you might see an increase in the medications that are endocrine related (metabolic change).”
Regardless of the reasons, both beta blockers and thyroid agents have the potential to improve and save lives year-round. If you’ve been prescribed these medications, work with your healthcare provider to find the right dose, and keep taking them, unless otherwise advised by a physician.