Being diagnosed with hypothyroidism can be a source of immense relief for many — especially since it finally explains why you were experiencing a host of symptoms in the first place. Then comes the eagerness to get started with your treatment that will not only reduce the symptoms but also improve your quality of life. However, it is important to remember that there is no cure for hypothyroidism but the symptoms can be totally managed.
Since hypothyroidism is a lifelong condition, treatment largely focuses on taking medications daily — in short, it’s something that’s now a part of your life.
The basic premise behind treating hypothyroidism is to replace the hormones that your thyroid can no longer make. So even though your thyroid can’t function properly, the hormone replacement can help restore normal levels of thyroid hormones.
You will be taking synthetic thyroxine also called levothyroxine. Usually levothyroxine is prescribed in the form of a pill but it is also available in the form of gel capsules and liquid for people who cannot swallow pills.
Remember that levothyroxine helps replace the hormones that your thyroid can no longer make, so if you stop taking your pills for whatever reason you’ll see the symptoms of hypothyroidism return. Unlike an antibiotic course which you can complete in a week or two until the infection has subsided — thyroxine pills need to be taken everyday, likely for the rest of your life.
When you first get started with thyroxine pills, your dose will be adjusted based on certain factors such as weight, cause of hypothyroidism, underlying health condition, etc. To determine the correct dosage, your doctor will recommend you to get a blood test done 6 to 8 weeks after starting the medicines and adjusting the dose as required. Each time your dose needs to be adjusted, a blood test will be required. However, these are the certain factors that will influence your starting dose of thyroxine:
- Cause of hypothyroidism
- Underlying health conditions
- Other medications
Your doctor will initially start with a low dose, depending on the above factors. Remember that thyroxine is a slow-acting hormone so it may take several weeks for your body to get adjusted to the hormones and show its effects. But every person is different and will respond differently to thyroxine. Initially your dose will be adjusted by taking blood tests every 6 to 8 weeks and eventually you’ll reach a stable dose that can be continued for months. From then on the blood tests may be required every 6 months and then once a year.
Can food or supplements interfere with thyroxine absorption?
Yes. Certain foods and supplements can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb thyroxine. Supplements such as iron, calcium or antacids that contain calcium and aluminium hydroxide can have an effect. Infact foods that contain soy and goitrogens (a naturally occurring chemical found in many plant-based foods) such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts if taken in large amounts can interfere with your thyroid medications and worsen hypothyroidism. But this does not mean you need to completely avoid food that contains soy or goitrogens. Such food items are also a part of your balanced diet and contain essential vitamins and minerals — so as long as you’re having it in moderation and cooking these vegetables before eating, they won’t affect your thyroid medications. Speak to your doctor if you’re currently taking any supplements and which food to limit or avoid.
Are there any side effects associated with thyroxine medications?
There are no side effects associated with thyroxine per se, unless you’re taking too little or too much of it. If you’re taking a lower dose than what’s recommended, you’ll continue to experience the symptoms of hypothyroidism. But if you take a higher dose, you may develop symptoms similar to that of hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. Taking too much thyroid hormone can cause inability to sleep, fatigue, increased appetite, osteoporosis and irregular heartbeat.
Tips for taking your thyroid hormone
- If you tend to forget taking medications – make a routine for yourself. Take your thyroid pill at the same time every day such as the first thing in the morning or right before brushing your teeth.
- You can also keep your pills in a container that is marked for each day of the week. This way you can keep a better track of your pills and have it handy. Also store your pills in a tightly closed container that will keep it dry.
- Levothyroxine is best taken on an empty stomach, and should ideally be taken with water only. Avoid having caffeinated beverages such as tea or coffee around the time of taking medicines.
- Wait for at least 4 hours before having any soy based products, calcium or iron supplements or antacids.
Once your doctor has established the right dose for you, you don’t need to get regular blood tests done. But you should definitely reach out to your doctor if you feel a change in symptoms, want to change your brand of thyroxine, lower your dose or have recently started taking other medicines that might interfere with thyroid hormone absorption. Always be truthful to yourself and your doctor if you have not been taking your pill regularly.
Remember to stay patient with yourself and the changes that are happening in your body when you begin the treatment because it might take weeks before you start to feel better again. You will not only be able to keep the symptoms under control but you also prevent the many complications of hypothyroidism from developing. Regardless of where you are in your treatment journey, the effort is worthwhile.
Disclaimer: Content on Veera is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, or as a substitute for medical advice given by a physician