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Hypothyroidism, Thyroid Medications and Their Side Effects

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism or have had a thyroidectomy your doctor will probably prescribe thyroid medication.

Common symptoms of hypothyroidism are:

  • Weight gain
  • Exhaustion
  • Blurry vision
  • Muscle aches
  • Constipation
  • Loss of hair
  • Dry skin
  • Depression
  • Intolerance of cold

Thyroid medication replaces the thyroid hormones in your body so that your metabolism and other functions will be as normal as possible. It is important that you understand the medication, side effects, and the need to work closely with your doctor on adjusting the dose so that you can get the most benefit out of it. Like any medication there are things you can do to help your medication be more effective.

The most common thyroid medications are:

  • L-thyroxine
  • L-triiodothyronine
  • Natural Thyroid


L-thyroxine (Synthroid)

L-thyroxine is probably one of the most common medications prescribed for hypothyroid conditions. Along with numerous generic brand names, common names for L-thyroxine are:

  • Levoxyl
  • Synthroid
  • Unithroid

This medication mimics the T-4 hormone that is produced by the body. Your doctor will prescribe you an initial dose based on your age, weight, and other criteria. Every few weeks you will need to meet with your doctor, have your blood levels checked and discuss your symptoms and how you feel. Your doctor will then adjust the dose and repeat the process. It can take six months or more to find the best level for you. Be patient and keep a journal of how you feel and your symptoms. This will help your doctor to find the correct dose more quickly.

How to take L-thyroxine:

  • It is important to take L-thyroxine at the same time every day.
  • Take it on an empty stomach and wait at least an hour before eating
  • Take it with plenty of water but no milk or other products that contains calcium
  • Do not take L-thyroxine at the same time as your vitamins, minerals, or other medications.

Side Effects of L-thyroxine:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Sleeplessness
  • Abnormal periods for women

My incision site about two days after the thyroidectomy. No pain at all - just a little discomfort.
My incision site about two days after the thyroidectomy. No pain at all - just a little discomfort. | Source

L-triiodothyronine (Cytomel)

This is the synthetic T-3 hormone. It must be taken several times a day and is not normally given long term. It is most often given to thyroid patients who will be going through radiation therapy. It keeps them from being too hypothyroid when they are off their medication.

Natural Thyroid (Armour)

This medication is very controversial. It is the “original” thyroid replacement medication and was in common use until the 1970s when synthroid was released.

It is derived from pig thyroid and contains both T-3 and T-4. There are those that have gotten relief from their hypothyroid symptoms on natural thyroid when synthroid just wasn't working.

The opponents say that it is not consistent and may have impurities. If you have not been able to get relief from your hypothyroid symptoms on synthroid it may be worth taking to your doctor about

Substances that Interact with Thyroid Medication

Calcium, iron, fiber, and aluminum (like in baking powder or certain antacids) can bind to thyroid medication and keep your body form absorbing it. This is why you should take it first thing in the morning with water and then wait for as long as possible before eating or taking other medications.

Some foods can also interfere with the absorption of this medication. You should separate the time you take the medication and eating these products by several hours. It may also be a good idea to limit your use of these foods over all, especially if your medication does not seem to be “working”.

Foods that interact with Thyroid medications are:

  • High fiber foods
  • Buckwheat
  • Cabbage
  • Cheese of all kinds
  • Collard Greens
  • Edamame
  • Flax
  • Kale
  • Lentils
  • Milk
  • Oatmeal
  • Rye
  • Soy milk
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • TVP
  • Yogurt (both dairy and soy

Herbs that you need to limit are:

  • Bugleweed-don;t use at all
  • Fenugreek
  • Kelp
  • Lemon Balm – don't use at all
  • St Johnswort

Other substances that interfere or that can interact:

  • Anti-cholesterol drugs
  • Anti-reflux medications
  • Amphetamines
    Appetite suppressants
  • Bile acid medications
  • Blood thinners
  • Calcium and calcium enriched foods
  • Estrogen
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Medicine for asthma or other breathing problems
    Medicine for colds, sinus problems, or hay fever or other allergies
  • Vitamin supplements

Also during hormonal changes like menopause, breastfeeding, or pregnancy your medication may need to be adjusted more often.

Always Check with Your Helath Care Provider

If you are taking medication for low thyroid levels or are about to begin to take these medications you owe it to yourself to research the things that will interfere. Take the medication in such a way that it will have the biggest impact on your health. Always talk to your doctor or health care provider about dietary changes and changes in medicine.


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    • profile image

      Lin 3 years ago

      I had my thyroid removed 3 years ago and since then I have had so many problems with keeping my weight down and also had lots of problems with heart palpitations and now have high blood pressure never had that before. I'm so fed up with taking pills for everything I have asked my gp to put me on other medication for my Thyroid but in Canada we only get Synthyroid at my dosage which is 188mg per day. I have tremors and fever every night I have tried to use a lower dosage myself but the I get terrible nightmares. Please help!!!

    • profile image

      Mary 4 years ago

      This pretty much listed almost all my symptoms. I have congenital hypothyroidism and I am 20 years old and have had two healthy boys.

    • Bobski606 profile image

      Bobby 4 years ago from U.K

      This is a really useful hub! My partner has an underactive thyroid and he's been struggling recently with his medication. It wasn't until we came across your article that things suddenly began to make sense. He's since changed his lifestyle and feeling much better. Thank you so much :-)

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 4 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Seek another opinion or two and see what other doctprs say

    • profile image

      Kross 4 years ago

      I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer 5 years ago. After 3 surgeries and 2 doses of I-131 iodine, the cancer is gone along with thyroid . I was on cytomel for the first 6 months or so and FELT GREAT! Now the past few years I've been on synthroid and feel like I'm on a roller coaster with moods, energy, etc... The endocrineologist continue to increase my dose (started at 200mcg and now at 325mcg). To top it off it is causing bone deteriation and I have fractured my L5 vertebrae, had to have L4,l5,s1 fused. I'm in constant pain and doctors tell me that until my thyroid level is right pain will be in my life. What should I do?

    • Sage in a Cage profile image

      Sage in a Cage 5 years ago

      Great hub. I've been on L-thyroxine for about 5 years now for a hypoactive thyroid and it has turned my life around. I do have a feeling like doctors are struggling to keep abreast of new research. It can be so frustrating.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 5 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Just educate yourself and ask lots of questions. ;)

    • profile image

      Lowin 5 years ago

      I am on Levothyroxine and didn't know these things. I also have Fibromyalgia and am on savela and other meds. I knew to all of this and it scares me.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 5 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      be sure to follow directions carefully. ;)

    • Christos Palmer profile image

      Christos Palmer 5 years ago from Caerdydd, Cardiff, United Kingdom

      Currently on Levothyroxine for hypothyroidism.

    • Mekenzie profile image

      Susan Ream 5 years ago from Michigan

      I was diagnosed with a hypothyroid and put on all of the thyroid medications you name above. I had adverse side-affects to all of them .. it was crazy. My Doc. said he did not know what to do with me.

      I started researching natural replacements. I found there are many benefits to taking organic coconut oil .. including assisting the thyroid to function properly. I also have a thyroid supplement I take. Last time I was at the Doc.s the blood work tests revealed I was functioning in the normal range .. first time in about 10 Years! I'm so excited!!



    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Thanks for this. I've been on thyroid medication since I was 17. I always take it first think in the morning at least an hour before I eat. I was taking it with my tea though, since I have milk in my tea I will switch back to taking it with water. I knew you were not supposed to take it with calcium but I was thinking the milk was so little that it wouldn't count.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 5 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Thyroid hormone is essential. I don't know of any docs in your area.. Keep trying - good luck

    • profile image

      Mary 5 years ago

      My daughter had her Thyroid removed with liquid iodine when she was about 16yrs old and was put on Synthroid. She has not been able to function since. She is overweight, tired, cold hands and feet, name it. Her tests show she is fine on the dosage she is taking. Doctors say that Natural Armour Thyroid is too difficult to monitor and measure. What can we do? Who's a good naturpath in York Region of Ontario? I have NO FAITH in conventional doctors. My family is anti drugs however my daughter is afraid to go off the Synthroid because her original doctor said she would "die" without it. How's that for inducing fear to someone who has OCD and ODD plus other medical issues?

    • sfshine profile image

      sfshine 5 years ago from Michigan

      Great hub with lots of information. I have never heard of Armour. I now take a homeopathic one thyodine. Thank you.

    • L a d y f a c e profile image

      L a d y f a c e 6 years ago from Canada

      Excellent information. I was on Synthroid for quite a while with very little benefit, and have now switched to Canada's Thyroid made by Erfa with more luck.

      Your information is bang on. Came here looking for the answer to a question, and found it! Thanks! :)

    • profile image

      Emr vendors 6 years ago

      I think its just great.

    • profile image

      allnaturalthyroid-meds 7 years ago

      Very informative hub. I have also heard about hashimoto's thyroiditis.The most common cause is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Other causes include radioactive iodine treatment and thyroidectomy surgery used to treat hyperthyroidism or thyroid cancer.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 7 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      Very interesting information. Excellent research. Thank you for your good work so that we can just easily take it all in without having to look it all up for ourselves. Hypothyroidism is so common these days. Aspartame is one of the reasons.

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 7 years ago

      I also take thyroxene and found this a very useful hub.

    • abbas73 profile image

      abbas73 8 years ago from hubpages

      it is also imprtant in stress situation like infections and surgury to increase L-THYROXINE dose under supervision of your doctor.

    • James Ginn profile image

      James Ginn 8 years ago from Ohio

      Very useful information. Well researched. Thank you.

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 8 years ago

      very useful hub lot of good info thanks