Thyroid hormones are artificially made hormones that make up for a lack of natural hormones produced by the thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped structure in the lower part of the neck, normally produces a hormone called thyroxine. This hormone controls the rate of metabolism—all the physical and chemical processes that occur in cells to allow growth and maintain body functions. When the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroxine, body processes slow down. People with underactive thyroid glands feel unusually tired and may gain weight even though they eat less. They may also have trouble staying warm and may have other symptoms, such as dry skin, dry hair, and a puffy face. By making up for the lack of natural thyroxine and bringing the rate of metabolism back to normal, artificially made thyroid hormone improves these symptoms.
Thyroid hormones also may be used to treat goiter (enlarged thyroid gland) and certain types of thyroid cancer.
Thyroid hormones, also called thyroid drugs, are available only with a physician's prescription. They are sold in tablet form. A commonly used thyroid hormone is levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl, Levothroid).
For adults and teenagers, the usual starting dose of levothyroxine tablets is 0.0125 mg (12.5 micrograms) to 0.05 mg (50 micrograms) per day. The physician who prescribes the medicine may gradually increase the dose over time.
For children, the dose depends on body weight and must be determined by a physician.
Taking thyroid hormones exactly as directed is very important. The physician who prescribes the medicine will figure out exactly how much of the medicine a patient needs. Taking too much or too little can make the thyroid gland overactive or underactive.
This medicine should be taken at the same time every day.
People who take thyroid hormones because their thyroid glands do not produce enough natural hormone may need to take the medicine for the rest of their lives. Seeing a physician regularly while taking this medicine is important. The physician will make sure that the medicine is working and that the dosage is correct.
In patients with certain kinds of heart disease, this medicine may cause chest pains and shortness of breath during exercise. People who have this problem should be careful not to exert themselves too much.
Anyone who is taking thyroid hormones should be sure to tell the health care professional in charge before having any surgical or dental procedures or receiving emergency treatment.
This medicine is safe to take during pregnancy, but the dosage may need to be changed. Women who are pregnant should check with their physicians to make sure they are taking the proper dosage.
Anyone who has had unusual reactions to thyroid hormones in the past should let his or her physician know before taking the drugs again. The physician should also be told about any allergies to foods, dyes, preservatives, or other substances.
Before using thyroid hormones, people with any of these medical problems should make sure their physicians are aware of their conditions:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- hardening of the arteries
- history of overactive thyroid
- underactive adrenal gland
- underactive pituitary gland
This medicine usually does not cause side effects if the dosage is right. Certain symptoms may be signs that the dose needs to be changed. Check with a physician if any of these symptoms occur:
- changes in appetite
- weight loss
- changes in menstrual period
- tremors of the hands
- leg cramps
- increased sensitivity to heat
- sleep problems
Other side effects are possible. Anyone who has unusual symptoms while taking thyroid hormones should get in touch with his or her physician.
Thyroid hormones may interact with other medicines. This may increase or decrease the effects of the thyroid medicine and may interfere with treatment. Anyone who takes thyroid hormones should not take any other prescription or nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicines without the approval of his or her physician. Among the drugs that may interact with thyroid hormones are:
- Medicine for colds, hay fever, and other allergies
- Medicine for asthma and other breathing problems
- Medicine for diabetes
- Blood thinners
- Diet pills (appetite suppressants)
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs such as cholestyramine (Questran) and colestipol (Colestid).
Adrenal glands— A pair of glands located next to the kidneys. The adrenal glands produce hormones that control many body functions.
Hormone— A chemical that is produced in one part of the body and then travels through the bloodstream to another part of the body where it has its effect.
Pituitary gland— A pea-sized gland at the base of the brain that produces many hormones that affect growth and body functions.
See also goitre; hypothyroidism; thyrotoxicosis.