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Hypothyroidism is commonly mismanaged, learn the facts

November 12, 2012

Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder. Hypothyroidism means you have too little thyroid hormone. Another term is an “underactive thyroid”. It occurs more often in women and people over age 60, and tends to run in families.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland located in the neck, just below your voice box and in front of your windpipe or trachea. It produces two thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which regulates how the body uses and stores energy. They tell organs how fast or slow they should work. Thyroid hormones affect metabolism, brain development, breathing, heart and nervous system functions, body temperature, muscle strength, skin dryness, menstrual cycles, weight and cholesterol levels; having a low level of thyroid hormone affects your entire body.

How can you find out if you have an underactive thyroid?

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include feeling tired, weak or depressed, dry skin, brittle nails, inability to stand the cold, constipation, memory problems or having trouble thinking clearly. Having these symptoms does not mean you have an underactive thyroid, as there are many other things that can cause someone to feel this way. Blood tests can measure your levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormone (T4). You have hypothyroidism when you have high TSH and low T4 levels in your blood. In the case of an underactive thyroid, hormone balance is reached by replacing thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism is treated with thyroid hormone medication, taken as a pill. Levothyroxine is the drug of choice. It is a laboratory-made form of T4 that is identical to the T4 the thyroid naturally makes.

If you are one of the many people who are already on thyroid hormone medication, it's important you manage your medication properly. Thyroid medication is commonly mismanaged in the following ways:

More is not better

Over time, doses of thyroid hormone that are too high can lead to bone loss, abnormal heart function and abnormal heart rhythms. But if they are too low, your symptoms may not be relieved. Dose adjustment may be necessary over your lifetime, especially during pregnancy.

Do you take your thyroid hormone replacement with your daily multivitamin or with food? Thyroid hormone absorption is decreased when taken with calcium and iron, which are present in most multivitamins and food. By separating your thyroid medicine from these things by a few hours you may improve absorption of the medicine.

With all the things on everyone’s daily to-do list, it can be difficult to remember to take medicine at a certain time every day. As in all areas of life, communication is the key! You can openly tell your health care provider managing your thyroid how often and when you take your medicine so they can make an informed decision about how to manage your hypothyroidism.