The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included. Ask your doctor if you need to take any special safety measures. Use each of these medications only as recommended by your doctor. Use them according to the instructions provided. If you have any questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.
- Levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levothroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid)
- Liothyronine (Cytomel, Triostat)
Levothyroxine is taken once a day. The dose of levothyroxine is based on your thyroid function tests, age, and weight. It is also based on whether you have any heart conditions or any remaining thyroid gland. Getting the right dose can take time. The dosage is slowly increased every 6-8 weeks until blood levels of TSH are in the normal range.
If you are elderly or have a heart condition, your doctor will start with a lower dose. This will give your body a chance to get used to the higher thyroid hormone level. After you have reached normal levels of TSH, your doctor may want to see you at least twice a year to make sure your levels continue to be normal. Thyroid blood levels can get higher or lower over time. It may be necessary to increase or decrease the dosage of medicine.
You may begin to feel better within one to two weeks after you start taking medication. It may take some people three to six months after your blood levels are normal before you really feel well. You must keep taking levothyroxine. There is no known cure for hypothyroidism. You will likely need thyroid hormones for the rest of your life. Remember to take your thyroid medication on an empty stomach. Calcium, iron, soy, and multivitamins in the stomach will interfere with its absorption. It should also be taken with a full glass of water.
After you start on a certain brand of levothyroxine, you should stay on that brand. The same dose of another brand may be absorbed differently in your body. If you change your dose or brand, you will be asked to have your blood levels of TSH checked about six weeks later.
Liothyronine (T3) is a very short-acting thyroid hormone. It is not prescribed as often as levothyroxine (T4). This medication is often given to patients after their thyroid is removed surgically for thyroid cancer. It is sometimes prescribed along with levothyroxine in a few select cases.
There is little concern for side effects of either form of thyroid hormone replacement. The only concern is overdosing. Both of these synthetic hormones are forms of thyroid hormones that are natural and needed in your body.
If you take too much of either of these synthetic hormones, it may cause the following problems:
- Hyperthyroidism—Symptoms include nervousness, sweating, palpitations, insomnia, headache, itching, weight loss, or diarrhea. Long-term effects can cause problems for your bones.
- Increased risk of heart attack, rapid heart rate (tachycardia) or irregular heartbeats, chest pain (angina), or shortness of breath, especially if you have a previous history of heart disease
Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:
- Take your medicine as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
- Do not stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor.
- Do not share your medicine.
- Know what the results and side effects may be. Report them to your doctor.
- Some drugs can be dangerous when mixed with other drugs. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one drug. This includes over-the-counter medicine and herb or dietary supplements.
- Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 11/2012 -
- Update Date: 11/26/2012 -