How to Take Thyroid Medication

Two Parts:Finding Out if Thyroid Medication is NecessaryTaking Thyroid Medication

Your thyroid gland is located in the front of your neck and associated with metabolism — making energy. Hypothyroidism is the term for an underactive thyroid that doesn't produce enough hormones, which typically leads to chronic fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, coarse hair, depression and moodiness.[1] Thyroid medication is prescribed for hypothyroidism and includes synthetic and natural varieties of hormones. You usually take thyroid medication by mouth and the dosages and time of day are very important factors.

Part 1
Finding Out if Thyroid Medication is Necessary

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    See your doctor and get tested for thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland is sensitive to many things, including dietary factors as well as emotional and physical stressors, so hypothyroidism is a relatively common condition — particularly in women. If you experience chronic (daily) fatigue, unexplained weight gain, dry skin, coarse hair, depression and uncharacteristic moodiness, then schedule an appointment with your family doctor to get checked out.
    • The best way to check for hypothyroidism is to get a blood test and look at your level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).[2]
    • TSH is the hormone your pituitary gland (in your brain) secretes to tell your thyroid how much thyroid hormone to make.
    • A lack of iodine in your diet can cause your thyroid to swell (called a goiter) and lead to hypothyroidism.
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    Understand the results of your blood test. If your thyroid gland is underactive or dysfunctional for some reason, your pituitary gland will tell your thyroid to work harder, which is indicated by increased levels of TSH in your bloodstream.[3] So the higher your TSH blood levels, the lower your thyroid gland activity.
    • Normal blood TSH values are less than 4 mIU/L (milli-international units per liter).
    • If your TSH level is greater than 10 mIU/L, then most doctors agree that treatment with thyroid medication (synthetic of natural) is appropriate.
    • If your TSH level is between 4 - 10 mIU/L, medication may still be recommended if your actual thyroid hormones — thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) — are abnormally low.
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    Ask your doctor about the different medications. Once your doctor establishes you have hypothyroidism, there are different types of medications to consider. The main medication used is called levothyroxine sodium (Synthroid, Levoxyl, Levothroid, Unithroid), which is a synthetic version of thyroxine (T4).[4] Other commonly used thyroid medications include liothyronine (Cytomel), a synthetic version of triiodothyronine (T3); liotrix (Thyrolar), a synthetic combo of T4 and T3; and desiccated natural thyroid (Armour Thyroid, Nature-throid, Westhroid).
    • Desiccated natural thyroid hormone is made from dried pig thyroid glands.
    • Depending on many factors, including which thyroid hormones are too low in your bloodstream (T4 and/or T3), your doctor will recommend the most appropriate thyroid medication.
    • All these thyroid medications simply supplement a hormone(s) that's at low levels in your body, so your body won't react negatively to them. The only safety concern is dosage — not taking too much.

Part 2
Taking Thyroid Medication

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    Tell your doctor about other medications you're taking. Remember to tell your doctor about any over-the-counter or prescription drugs you're taking because some types can negatively interact with your thyroid medication. Other drugs to watch out for include oral contraceptives, hormone therapy (estrogen, testosterone), some anti-seizure medications, cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) and many antidepressants.[5]
    • If you take any of these drugs it doesn't mean you can't take thyroid medication, but your doctor may have to alter dosages or schedules so side effects are minimized.
    • Most interactive drugs need to be taken at least 4 hours before taking your thyroid medication.[6]
    • Some food (soy and dairy products in particular) and supplements (especially calcium and iron) also effect the absorption and effectiveness of thyroid medication.
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    Get your dose figured out by your doctor. When starting on thyroid medication for hypothyroidism, your doctor will decide on the initial dosage based on information such as your blood test results, weight, age and other medical conditions you might have.[7] The dose will then be adjusted from time to time based on regular check-ups that consist of physical examinations and more blood tests.
    • If you suddenly gain or lose a significant amount of weight (more than 10 pounds) inform your doctor as soon as you can because it might affect your dosage of thyroid medication.
    • Because treatment for hypothyroidism is highly individualized and monitored carefully by your doctor, you'll get your TSH measured 4 - 8 weeks after starting treatment or changing dosages.[8]
    • Once stabilized, you'll get a blood test every 6-12 months to check for TSH, T4 and T3 levels.
    • Once you start on a particular type and brand name of thyroid medication, stay with it. If a change is unavoidable or preferred for economic reasons, tell your doctor beforehand.
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    Take the medication in the morning. Thyroid hormonal medications come in pill form and are easy to take. They stay in your system for a long time because they're not quickly metabolized, so you take them just once daily. Although there's some debate on the topic, many doctors feel the best time to take thyroid medication is probably first thing in the morning soon after rising.[9] It's easiest to establish a routine first thing in the morning and it stabilizes your hormone levels throughout the day.
    • Some research indicates that taking thyroid medication before going to bed increases thyroid hormones and lowers TSH more effectively compared to a morning dosage schedule.[10]
    • Taking thyroid medication at night may be more convenient if you're on other medications and need to space them apart by at least 4 hours.
    • Regardless of when you take your thyroid medication, the take home point is to be consistent and take it at the same time every day.
    • If you forget to take your thyroid pill, take it as soon as you remember if within 12 hours of your regular time. If over 12 hours, simply skip the forgotten dose.
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    Don't take the medication with food. Regardless of when you actually take your thyroid medication, never take it with food because it affects your body’s absorption of the hormone and makes it less effective or potent.[11] In general, wait at least 30 minutes after taking your thyroid pill before eating breakfast or any other meal. If you've eaten first, wait at least 2 hours before taking your thyroid pill.
    • Aside from not combining your pills with food, there are no other dietary restrictions while on thyroid medication.[12]
    • Taking your thyroid medication at night may be more convenient to prevent food interactions in the morning.
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    Drink a glass of water with the medication. It's very important to take thyroid medication (especially levothyroxine sodium or Levoxyl) with lots of fluid because the tablets tend to dissolve very quickly and can swell in the back of your throat in response to saliva and cause gagging or choking.[13] As such, take the tablets with a large glass of water (about 8 ounces) in order to wash them down without incident.
    • Stick with purified water and don't wash the tablets down with juice, milk or coffee because it make affect how they are absorbed.
    • Don't use excessively cold water because it may cause your throat to constrict a little (become more narrow) and make it more difficult to swallow the tablets.
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    Store your thyroid medication appropriately. Keep your thyroid medication in the container it came in and keep the lid tightly closed and out of the reach of your kids. Store the medication at regular room temperature and away from excessive heat or moisture — for example, not in your bathroom.[14] Throw away the thyroid medication if it's outdated — ask a pharmacist about the best and safest way to dispose of your medication.
    • Thyroid medication tends to have a strong odor, so it doesn't mean that it's spoiled or outdated and can't be used.
    • Check the expiry date on the package of your medication and ask your doctor for a new prescription if you notice it's outdated.


  • Thyroid medication helps to control / alleviate the symptoms of hypothyroidism, but it does not cure the condition at all.
  • Thyroid medication may take several weeks to impact hypothyroidism and make your symptoms significantly less noticeable.
  • To control your hypothyroidism, you'll likely need to take thyroid medication for the rest of your life.
  • Don't take a double dose of thyroid medication to make up for a missed dose. Tell your doctor immediately if you miss 2 or more doses consecutively.
  • Continue taking your thyroid medication even if you feel great and are without any of your previous symptoms. Only stop or change your dosage if your doctor recommends it.
  • If you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy, taking thyroid medication is considered safe.

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Categories: Taking Pills and Medicine