Health Education

Hypothyroidism treatment and medications

Cropped SingleCare logo By | October 25, 2019
Medically reviewed by Jeff Fortner, Pharm.D.

What is hypothyroidism? | Hypothyroidism diagnosis | Hypothyroidism treatment options | Hypothyroidism medications | Best hypothyroidism medications | Side effects of hypothyroidism | Hypothyroidism home remedies | FAQ | Resources

What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormones triiodothyronine and thyroxine, which help normalize metabolism throughout the body. When this happens, the pituitary gland produces more TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) to try and make the thyroid produce more hormones.

Hypothyroidism can be difficult and frustrating for those who live with it. Having an underactive thyroid slows down many processes in the body and can cause fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, constipation, and sensitivity to the cold, among other things. According to the American Thyroid Association, over 20 million people experience some type of thyroid disorder in the United States every year.

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. With this condition, a person’s own antibodies gradually attack thyroid tissue causing damage over time, so eventually not enough thyroid hormones are created and metabolism slows. Hypothyroidism can also be caused by radiation therapy, certain medications, thyroid surgery, pituitary disorders, pregnancy, and iodine deficiency, among other things.

This guide gives an overview of thyroid medications that a doctor may prescribe or recommend to treat hypothyroidism.

How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones to regulate metabolism. The risk of hypothyroidism increases with age, and women are much more likely to experience hypothyroidism than men. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, dry skin, fatigue, goiter, constipation, and cold sensitivity.

A trip to the doctor’s office will likely result in a blood test to measure the amount of TSH and thyroxine levels in the body. Low levels of thyroxine, a hormone made by the thyroid, and high levels of TSH are signs of an underactive thyroid.

A primary care practitioner can diagnose and treat hypothyroidism, or refer you to an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in hormone disorders. A doctor may ask the following questions to help confirm a diagnosis:

  • When did your symptoms first start happening?
  • Do you have a family history of thyroid disease?
  • What, if anything, helps your symptoms?
  • Are your symptoms continuous or sporadic?
  • Are you currently taking any medications?

Hypothyroidism treatment options

Hypothyroidism is commonly treated with hormone replacement therapy. Natural and home remedies are used by some people to help with symptoms of hypothyroidism, but synthetically or naturally derived hormone replacements are often prescribed for life. Endocrinologists see patients with hypothyroidism, and naturopathic doctors are becoming increasingly popular as well.

Doctors and researchers are always looking for new ways to bring relief to people who suffer from thyroid disorders like hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism. This article by the Chicago Tribune talks about how some researchers are turning to CBD (cannabidiol), one of the active natural chemicals in the cannabis or marijuana plant, to help people suffering from hypothyroidism related headaches.

Thyroid medications

Treatment of hypothyroidism involves hormone replacement therapy. When the body can’t produce the right amount of thyroid hormones to support itself, hormone replacements are prescribed. Thyroid medications can come as capsules, tablets, or a liquid, and can sometimes be given intravenously. A health-care professional can determine the proper dosage and form of medication on a case-by-case basis.

Synthetically derived hormone medications

Most prescription drugs prescribed to treat hypothyroidism are made in a lab from synthetic ingredients. Hypothyroidism medications are made to supplement the body’s production of the two hormones triiodothyronine and thyroxine, which help regulate metabolism.

Synthetic versions of thyroxine, which are called levothyroxine sodium, are commonly prescribed to treat hypothyroidism. Brand names of levothyroxine sodium include but are not limited to:

Synthetic versions of the hormone triiodothyronine are called liothyronine and are also commonly prescribed to treat hypothyroidism. The brand name of liothyronine tablets in the US is Cytomel, while an injectable solution called Triostat is sometimes used as well.

Naturally-derived hormone medications

Some medications used to treat hypothyroidism are made from animal thyroids, which can be dried and powdered, and then used as an ingredient. Brand names of naturally derived hormone replacements include Armour Thyroid and Nature-Throid.

What is the best medication for hypothyroidism?

There is no one universal thyroid medication that’s best for everyone. Individual symptoms and responses to treatment vary, and effective doses of a particular medication can vary widely from person to person. A doctor can determine the best medication for hypothyroidism based on an individual’s symptoms, medical history, and response to treatments. Here’s an overview of popular hypothyroidism medications that a doctor may prescribe.

Drug name Drug class Administration route Standard dosage Side effects
Armour Thyroid Thyroid supplement Oral 60 to 130 mg/day usually taken once daily on an empty stomach, 30 minutes to 1 hour before breakfast Diarrhea, skin rash, or irritability
Levoxyl

(levothyroxine sodium)

Thyroid supplement Oral 50 to ≥200 mcg/day usually taken once daily on an empty stomach, 30 minutes to 1 hour before breakfast Allergic reaction, chest pain, or severe diarrhea
Nature-Throid Thyroid supplement Oral 65mg to 195 mg/day usually taken once daily on an empty stomach, 30 minutes to 1 hour before breakfast Nervousness and irritability, diarrhea, or chest pain
Synthroid

(levothyroxine sodium)

Thyroid supplement Oral 50 to ≥200 mcg/day usually taken once daily on an empty stomach, 30 minutes to 1 hour before breakfast Seizures, diarrhea, or chest pain

A doctor determines the best dosage based on medical conditions, response to treatment, age, and weight. Other possible side effects exist. This is not a complete list. 

What are some common side effects of thyroid medications?

As with any medication, there are always potential side effects. Common side effects associated with thyroid medications include severe diarrhea, nervousness or irritability, skin rash or hives, chest pain, seizures, and headaches. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if your side effects persist or worsen.

Hypothyroidism medications may cause allergic reactions that result in hives or difficulty breathing. Allergic reactions can be life-threatening. You should seek immediate medical care if you believe you are experiencing an allergic reaction.

This list of side effects is not comprehensive. Ask a healthcare professional for more details regarding the possible side effects of a particular medication.

Is there a natural remedy for hypothyroidism?

Many people rely on home remedies and natural treatments to help treat their hypothyroidism. Certain lifestyle changes may help prevent hypothyroidism from worsening. Home remedies, natural treatments options, and lifestyle changes are all ways that people who have hypothyroidism can try to reduce their symptoms. Many natural supplements are not approved by the FDA. Here are some popular home and natural remedies for hypothyroidism:

  • Taking B Vitamins. These vitamins are important for regulating hormones and supporting neurological functions and may improve hypothyroid symptoms. Legumes, nuts, eggs, seeds, and dark leafy greens are all good sources of B vitamins.
  • Taking Ashwagandha. This supplement may help improve thyroid levels for those with hypothyroidism. It works by reducing cortisol levels, which then boosts levels of thyroid hormones.
  • Taking L-Tyrosine. Taking L-Tyrosine may help relieve symptoms of fatigue and depression that are associated with hypothyroidism.
  •  Reducing stress. Experiencing high levels of stress can make hypothyroidism worse. When cortisol levels are raised in the body, this can negatively affect the thyroid. Reducing stress by exercising, meditating, or spending time with friends and family can positively impact people living with hypothyroidism.

Frequently asked questions about hypothyroidism

Can hypothyroidism be cured?

According to the American Thyroid Association, hypothyroidism can be successfully treated with hormone replacement therapy. Some of the underlying causes of hypothyroidism, such as Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, cannot be cured entirely, and may even increase the risk for getting thyroid cancer. Whether or not hypothyroidism can be completely cured depends on the individual, their medical history, and their response to treatment.

Can hypothyroidism go away on its own?

Hypothyroidism typically doesn’t go away on its own. Most people require hormone replacement therapy to supplement what the body isn’t producing. Many people have to take synthetically or naturally derived hormones for the rest of their lives to keep their thyroid functioning properly.

What happens if hypothyroidism is left untreated?

If hypothyroidism goes untreated it can potentially cause bigger health problems. Pregnant women with hypothyroidism have a higher risk of their child having birth defects. Untreated hypothyroidism can also cause goiters, fertility problems, anemia, blood clotting issues, heart problems, or nerve issues.

What is the best treatment for hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is most commonly treated with hormone replacements which help regulate thyroid hormone levels. Some people may choose natural or home remedies to help with their hypothyroidism.

There is no one single hormone replacement or natural remedy that’s most effective at treating hypothyroidism. A doctor will determine what’s best for each person based on symptoms, response to medications, and individual patient history.

What are common thyroid medications?

Hormone replacements are the most common form of thyroid medication. Hormone replacements can be synthetically or naturally derived. Here is a list of some of the most common thyroid medications:

Do you lose weight on levothyroxine?

Some people may experience weight loss while taking levothyroxine. Levothyroxine helps people with hypothyroidism have a faster working metabolism. This means that the body will burn calories faster, which could result in weight loss. Talking with a healthcare provider can help determine if levothyroxine is the right medication for you.

What are the best foods to help the thyroid?

Some of the best foods to help with thyroid problems are seaweed and sea vegetables, fish, dark leafy greens, Brazil nuts, and coconuts. These foods are high in iodine, vitamin-D, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which may help with thyroid health.

How can I test my thyroid at home?

There is no direct home test for low thyroid since only a laboratory blood test of TSH and thyroxine can diagnose low thyroid. However, hypothyroidism is often associated with low body temperature. So having a low Basal Body Temperature (BBT) may mean that the body isn’t producing enough energy, which could be due to hypothyroidism. Using a specific BBT thermometer to track your body’s temperature may indicate an underactive thyroid. Scheduling an appointment with a primary care physician or endocrinologist is important in confirming a diagnosis.

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