Hypothyroidism, recognized as reduced or slowed thyroid function, is an increasingly common condition in the United States. Typically, hypothyroidism is treated through the use of thyroid hormone replacement medications. These drugs come in a variety of forms including:
- Levothyroxine/T4 (Brands include: Synthroid, Levoxyl, Levothyroid, Unithroid, Tirosint) – find out why T4-only medication doesn’t work for many people.
- Liothyronine/T3 (Brands include: Cytomel, or compounded forms of T3)
- Natural desiccated thyroid/combination T4 and T3 (Brands include: Armour, Nature-throid, Thyroid WP)
Odds are, if you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism you are being treated with one or more of these medications.
When taken and administered properly, thyroid medications often provide good results. However, there are many patient dependent factors that can impede the efficacy of these treatments. The following sections focus on eight common mistakes made by those taking thyroid drugs that limit the benefit of their medications. Avoiding these mistakes can help ensure that you get the best results from your thyroid medications.
Mistake 1: Not Thoroughly Reading or Checking the Prescription
The first thing that should be done when collecting your thyroid medication from a pharmacy is to thoroughly check the prescription. This should include reading the package or bottle to verify the correct medication and dosage, counting or confirming the number of pills, and ensuring that your brand-name prescription was not filled with a generic option. If any of these areas are found to be erroneous, taking the medication could cause an unexpected change in thyroid function resulting in worsening of your condition and symptoms.
Mistake 2: Ignoring Prescription Instructions
Most thyroid patients are familiar with common thyroid medication guidelines such as waiting at least an hour after taking their medication before eating. Such guidelines are generally helpful. However, some medications have specific instructions that should be strictly followed. For example, Levoxyl, a synthetic form of T4, should be taken with plenty of water. Disregarding this attribute limits the medication’s efficacy.
Mistake 3: Forgetting to Take Medication or Taking it Irregularly
Successful treatment with thyroid medication requires consistent dosage. Thyroid medications should be taken daily at about the same time. Unfortunately, it is very common for individuals to forget to take their medication. Skipping one dose or taking it at a different time is not exceedingly detrimental. However, regularly missing doses or skipping multiple days in a row can cause significant disruption of the thyroid resulting in system-wide dysfunction. For those taking thyroid suppressants, typically prescribed to thyroid cancer patients, it is even more critical to maintain consistent dosage. Many patients find it helpful to set an additional alarm an hour before they need to get up so they can take their pill and return to sleep for another hour.
Mistake 4: Improperly Storing Medication
Many patients make the mistake of leaving their thyroid medications in suboptimal locations. When stored incorrectly, medications can quickly lose their potency. Ideally, thyroid drugs are stored in a dry dark area with a consistent moderate temperature. Avoid storing medications in locations that are exposed to a great deal of light, such as near windows, or locations that fluctuate significantly in temperature like in cars or glove compartments.
Mistake 5: Not Checking for Allergens
A notable percentage of individuals are sensitive or allergic to various binders and fillers contained in thyroid medications. Using a medication containing ingredients that the body is sensitive to can trigger an immune response, inhibit medication efficacy, or cause serious harm to the body. For this reason, it is essential to check medication ingredients before use. Some of the most common potentially triggering ingredients found in various thyroid medications are gluten, soy, acacia, and lactose. Be sure to get tested for these and other common allergens to reduce the risk of being exposed to an unrecognized sensitivity or allergen.
Mistake 6: Taking Medications with Coffee and Calcium-rich Foods
Certain substances have a particularly negative effect on thyroid medication and the body’s ability to utilize it. Drinking coffee, milk, or consuming dairy products too soon before or after taking thyroid medication can inhibit thyroid hormone absorption. It is recommended by medical experts to wait at least one hour after taking thyroid medication before consuming coffee or dairy products. Furthermore, consuming calcium-rich foods or supplements such as calcium-fortified orange juice, and Greek yogurt can impede absorption. It is best to avoid consuming calcium-rich foods for two hours before and after medicating.
Mistake 7: Taking Thyroid Medications Near Other Medications
There are a variety of common drugs and supplements that can interfere with thyroid hormone medications if they are taken too close together. Antacids, calcium supplements, cholesterol drugs, antidepressants, and iron supplements can all impede thyroid hormone absorption, thereby rendering thyroid medications less effective. If these drugs and supplements are a necessary part of treatment, it is best to take them four hours before or after taking thyroid medications. Most other medications can be taken within an hour of dosing with thyroid hormone drugs.
Mistake 8: Expecting all Brands and Forms of Thyroid Medication to be the Same
Those with hypothyroidism may be familiar with the three common types of medications, levothyroxine, liothyronine, and natural desiccated thyroid (NDT). Of these different treatments, there are multiple brands that have their own pros and cons. Some mistakenly believe that all thyroid medications are the same regardless of the brand. In reality, each type of medication and their individual brands are unique meaning they have their own specific impact on the body. Because of this, patients often experience unexpected changes in wellness when using new thyroid medications.
Getting the Most from Your Medications
Effective thyroid treatment requires accurate diagnosis, prescription, and dosage. However, perhaps the most important part of treatment is consistent and accurate medicating on the part of the patient. Being aware of the common thyroid pitfalls described above should help you avoid medication mistakes. Evading thyroid drug detractors is an important part of thyroid treatment that helps ensure you get the most benefit possible from your thyroid medications.
1. 11 Thyroid Medication Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make. Health Central. https://www.healthcentral.com/article/thyroid-medication-mistakes
2. Common Thyroid Medication Mistakes. VeryWell. https://www.verywellhealth.com/thyroid-medication-mistakes-3233280
3. 8 Hypothyroidism Medication Mistakes to Avoid. Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/healthy-living-with-hypothyroidism/avoid-hypothyroidism-medication-mistakes/
4. 6 Thyroid Medication Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make. Endocrine Web. https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/hypothyroidism/6-things-do-if-your-thyroid-hormone-isnt-working