Conventional Medical Treatments for Hypothyroidism


What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid disease, is a common condition that occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce adequate amounts of the thyroid stimulating hormone. Located in the lower front portion of the neck, the thyroid gland releases a crucial hormone that travels through the bloodstream. Thyroid hormones are essential in controlling how cells use energy. Hypothyroidism can impact the body’s general functionality.

Conventional treatments

Hypothyroidism treatment can often return a normal lifestyle. Treatment is life long since there is no cure. Conventional medical treatment for hypothyroidism includes hormone replacement medications or supplements.

Levothyroxine (T4)

The main treatment for hypothyroidism is levothyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone replacement medication. It is identical to the T4 hormone produced by the thyroid. By taking this medication, normal levels of thyroid hormone should be restored into the blood flow, significantly reducing or potentially alleviating symptoms. It may take several weeks to notice any relief.

It is likely that blood tests will be required as a follow-up to ensure the dosage is correct. Doses may need adjusting until the hormone level is normal. In cases of severe hypothyroidism, or if coronary artery disease is present, the initial dosage may be lower and increased gradually over time. Taking too much of this medication can result in side effects, such as heart palpitations, shakiness, increased appetite, and insomnia.

It is typical to remain on medication for the endurance of life. It should not be skipped or stopped, even if symptoms begin to improve. Some medications and foods can make it difficult for the body to absorb this medication, including soy products, a high-fiber diet, calcium supplements, aluminum hydroxide (present in some antacids), or iron supplements.

Triiodothyronine (T3)

T3 may supplement the T4 hormone, although it is not typically needed since the thyroid is usually able to convert T4 into T3 as needed. Unlike T4, T3 needs to be taken multiple times a day due to its short lifespan. This causes the levels of T3 in the body to fluctuate, which can increase symptoms of hyperthyroidism. These symptoms may include an abnormally fast heart rate, anxiety, atrial fibrillation, bone loss, or insomnia.

Natural thyroid supplements

In addition to synthetic thyroid hormone replacement, it is possible to derive hormones from natural sources. For instance, thyroid supplements may consist of dried thyroid glands of an animal, such as a pig or cow. These supplements are not FDA regulated and are not guaranteed to contain the same amounts of T3 and T4 per individual dose. This poses the risk of the thyroid becoming off balance by changing the hormone levels each day. The thyroid glands of the animals used to make these supplements are also genetically different from those of humans.

Subclinical hypothyroidism

Thyroid hormone therapy may be ineffective or harmful for those with subclinical hypothyroidism who have a mild increase in TSH. It is, however, possible for thyroid hormone therapy to improve cholesterol levels, energy levels, and heart functionality in those with a higher TSH level. A health care professional should determine the correct treatment plan.

Additional source: American Thyroid Association

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