In this article:
- How to treat hypothyroidism
- How long does it take for thyroid medication to work?
- Tips for taking your thyroid medication
- What to do if you think your medication is not working
Hypothyroidism is the condition in which your thyroid gland is underactive and does not produce enough thyroid hormones. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland helps to regulate the body's metabolism. When your thyroid hormone production drops, your body processes slow down and change, affecting every system in your body. Untreated hypothyroidism puts patients at risk for other ailments, such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and infertility.
Taking medication to replace low thyroid hormone levels is the primary way to treat an underactive thyroid. Although it is not a cure, it replaces the thyroid hormones that your thyroid is not making and prevents secondary health issues from arising.
People often seek help for their hypothyroidism when they experience symptoms like fatigue, cold intolerance, weight gain, and depression. These symptoms can be frustrating and unpleasant (to say the least), so it comes as no surprise that many people hope their thyroid medication will help right away.
While many people get relief soon after starting medication, others need more time before seeing an improvement.
How to treat hypothyroidism
Before you start medication, take an at-home thyroid blood test to understand your thyroid function. Your doctor will use your test results to determine if you have an underactive thyroid, along with your symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle.
There are several different kinds of thyroid hormone replacement medication. Your doctor will partner with you to determine the right brand and dose based on your test results, age, health, weight, and symptoms. Older adults and those with conditions like heart disease usually start on a smaller dose.
Subclinical hypothyroidism is the condition in which your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are elevated, but your T4 (thyroxine) levels are still normal. People with subclinical hypothyroidism may or may not have symptoms.
There is no clear guideline when it comes to treating subclinical hypothyroidism with medication or not. Therefore, the decision to start medication is usually between you and your thyroid doctor.
How long does it take for thyroid medication to work?
The time it takes for the medication to work is unique to each person.
Once you start your medication, it can take a few weeks to start noticing an improvement in your symptoms. However, some people see their symptoms get better almost right after starting.
To see how your body responds to thyroid medication, you should retest your thyroid function about six weeks after starting or changing your prescription. Depending on your symptoms and lab results, your doctor may make changes to your dose. For example, if you are still having symptoms, you may need a higher dose of medication.
Sometimes, it can take several dosage changes, and even in medication, to get the results you need. However, once you find the right combination, it's advantageous to stick with it unless something changes or your symptoms return.
Tips for taking your thyroid medication
There are several things you need to be mindful of when it comes to taking your thyroid medication.
Do not change brands
Once you find the correct dose and medication, you will want to stick with it. People often find there are subtle differences in formulations that can have some not-so-subtle effects. Therefore, you will not want to switch between the generic and brand names of your thyroid medication.
Take your medication at the same time each day.
It's important to follow a schedule when taking your thyroid medication. Generally, it is best to take your thyroid medicine on an empty stomach for at least 30 minutes before putting anything in your stomach.
Most people take their thyroid medication first thing in the morning. However, you should take your thyroid medication at least an hour before eating or drinking. So if you prefer your morning coffee or tea right away, it may be best to take your medicine at night.
Be cautious with other medications
Some medications and supplements can interfere with how your body absorbs thyroid medication. Ensure your thyroid doctor knows everything you are taking (including vitamins) so you know when to take your thyroid pill.
Don't miss a dose
If you forget to take your thyroid medication, take it as soon as you remember. Also, if you need to skip a dose for surgery or another reason, make sure to check with your doctor first. You are often allowed to take your thyroid medication before surgical procedures as long as you inform your health care team.
What to do if thyroid medication doesn't seem to work
Remember, it can take a few weeks for your thyroid medication to start working when you begin treatment. However, suppose you have been on medication for a few months and have not seen improvement. In that case, it is high time to meet with your thyroid doctor.
Sometimes, it may be as simple as needing your dose to be tweaked. Other times, it may be an issue where your body is not responding to the type of medication you are taking.
Suppose your thyroid blood tests indicate stable levels, but you still experience thyroid-related symptoms. In that case, you may need a different type of thyroid medication or dose. However, your doctor may explore other causes of your symptoms and talk to you about making lifestyle adjustments.
Are you struggling with finding the right dose or medication for you? Meet with a Paloma Health thyroid doctor to explore the best strategies for optimizing your thyroid function and reclaiming your health.