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Thyroid hormones

Thyroid hormones
Armour brand desiccated thyroid extract


Thyroid hormones come in a variety of formulations and brand names.

Natural products made of dried thyroid glands from beef and pork are sold as Armour Thyroid, Thyroid Strong and Thyroid USP.

They are generally quite inexpensive, but dosage levels may vary. That is why endocrinologists usually prescribe synthetic products such as Synthroid or Levothroid.

When people develop a sluggish thyroid gland they often feel tired and weak. They may become constipated, sensitive to cold or anemic. They may also suffer with dry skin and hair, thick brittle fingernails and have shortness of breath when they exercise. Some people report clumsiness, weight gain, or puffy eyes.

Thyroid problems are diagnosed with blood tests. The best is one that measures thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH. This test also helps determine the proper dose of thyroid hormone for treatment.

Side Effects and Interactions of Thyroid Medication

Side effects of thyroid replacement therapy are rare if the dose is appropriate.

Specialists recommend beginning treatment with a low dose and gradually increasing it until symptoms of underactive thyroid disappear and the TSH blood test is normal. This may initially require blood tests every four to six weeks and good communication with the doctor.

Too much thyroid hormone can lead to complications such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Signs of overdose include insomnia, heart palpitations, jitteriness, rapid heart beat, increased sweating, higher blood pressure, changes in appetite, and reduced menstrual flow.

Other adverse reactions of excessive thyroid levels include tremor, headache, diarrhea, and weight loss. Report any such symptoms to your physician promptly.

A number of medications may interact with thyroid hormone or alter the tests that detect thyroid problems. People taking estrogen, asthma medicines, decongestants (including those found in over-the-counter cold or flu remedies), antidepressants, certain cholesterol lowering drugs, blood thinners such as Coumadin or heart medicine like digoxin should check with a physician or pharmacist.

In theory, the herb guggul might counteract thyroid-suppressing drugs or increase the effect of thyroid hormones. Monitoring thyroid function is prudent. Licorice may alter the required dose of levothyroxine because of its impact on the thyroid gland.

Never stop taking thyroid hormone without first checking with your health care provider.

Special Precautions

Too much thyroid hormone can make a person more susceptible to osteoporosis or weakened bones. You may wish to discuss with your doctor whether you need tests to monitor bone density.

Thyroid replacement is usually needed for the rest of one’s life, and stopping the medicine suddenly could precipitate symptoms of inactive thyroid.

Don’t discontinue any thyroid hormone without your doctor’s supervision. It is usually best to stick with one formulation rather than switching from one brand to another frequently.

Taking Thyroid Hormones

The usual recommendation is to take thyroid hormone before breakfast. Although this hormone is probably best taken on an empty stomach, it is more important to take it at the same time every day to maintain a constant level in your body.

Do not take this medication with iron pills, as they can interfere with proper absorption.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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