How is Hypothyroidism Treated?
Hypothyroidism is a common disorder affecting millions of Americans. Thyroid hormone plays a key role in many metabolic functions in the body. A lack of the proper amount of thyroid hormone leads to hypothyroidism. Fortunately, there are easy treatments available for hypothyroidism.
People with hypothyroidism will experience a wide range of different symptoms. The most common symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include fatigue, weakness, dry skin, constipation, intolerance to cold, weight changes, and joint pains. There are a wide range of other symptoms caused by hypothyroidism as well. The focus of this article is on hypothyroidism treatment and not necessarily the symptoms.
The doctor who suspects a patient may have hypothyroidism can do a simple blood test to determine if thyroid levels are low. This test is known as a TSH test, or thyroid stimulating hormone. TSH is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. Its function is to stimulate the production of thyroid hormone in the thyroid gland. And elevated TSH level means that there is a decreased amount of circulating thyroid in the body. This is hypothyroidism and needs to be corrected.
By far the most common treatment for hypothyroidism is a medication known as levothyroxine. Levothyroxine is a synthetic form of a natural thyroid hormone. It mimics the natural thyroid hormone almost perfectly.
When initiating treatment for hypothyroidism, a patient will begin taking a low dose of levothyroxine, typically between 50 and 100 mcg daily. A woman who is pregnant will begin on approximately 100 to 150 mcg daily.
The dose of levothyroxine will be increased by approximately 25 mcg every week. During this time TSH levels will be repeatedly tested. When TSH levels become normal, the proper dose of levothyroxine has been reached. Most people require between 100 and 250 mcg of levothyroxine daily. If TSH levels continue to be elevated, increased doses of levothyroxine may be necessary.
As doses of levothyroxine are increased, it is important to also monitor a patient for other symptoms related to excess thyroid in the body. Diarrhea, and anginal chest pain are common symptoms of excess thyroid.
After the proper dose of levothyroxine has been determined, it is important for a patient to be maintained on the same brand. Different manufacturers make levothyroxine, and the absorption of these different brands can be somewhat different.
If a woman is becomes pregnant while taking levothyroxine, it is necessary to increase the dose approximately 30% as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed. Women who are pregnant require increased levels of thyroid hormone. This is essential for the proper development and growth of the fetus.
The concomitant use of other medications can have an effect on levothyroxine dosing. Medications such as phenobarbital, Dilantin, rifampin, and carbamazepine can all have an effect on thyroid levels in the body. These medications will require the dose of levothyroxine to be increased. The use of oral estrogen therapy, such as birth control pills, will also increase the amount of levothyroxine which is required.
If TSH levels are found to decrease to abnormally low levels while a patient is taking levothyroxine, it is possible that a person is taking too much of the hormone. The necessary levels of levothyroxine will often decrease with menopause, or after a woman has given birth.
A person taking levothyroxine should avoid taking this hormone in combination with some other supplements. Iron, calcium supplements, soymilk, and antacids containing aluminum hydroxide can decrease the amount of levothyroxine which is absorbed by the body.
Proper hypothyroidism treatment is a complicated issue. You must work closely with your doctor in order to develop an effective treatment regimen for hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is easily treated, but there are many nuances to this treatment – one size most certainly does not fit all.