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Drug Profile

The information on this site is intended to supplement and enhance, not replace, the advice of a physician who is familiar with your medical history. Decisions about your health should always be made ONLY after detailed conversation with your doctor.

Generic drug name: levothyroxine (lee voe thy ROX een)
Brand name(s): EUTHYROX, LEVO-T, LEVOTHYROID, LEVOXYL, NOVOTHYROX, SYNTHROID, THYQUIDITY, THYRO-TABS, TIROSINT, TIROSINT-SOL, UNITHROID
GENERIC: available FAMILY: Thyroid Hormone
Find the drug label by searching at DailyMed.

Limited Use [what does this mean?]
Generic drug name: liothyronine (lye oh THYE roe neen)
Brand name(s): CYTOMEL
GENERIC: not available FAMILY: Thyroid Hormone
Find the drug label by searching at DailyMed.

Limited Use [what does this mean?]
Generic drug name: liotrix (LYE oh trix)
Brand name(s): THYROLAR
GENERIC: available FAMILY: Thyroid Hormone
Find the drug label by searching at DailyMed.

Pregnancy and Breast-feeding Warnings [top]

Pregnancy Warning

Thyroid hormones appear to be safe to take during pregnancy.

Breast-feeding Warning

Adequate replacement doses are generally needed to maintain normal lactation. However, thyroid hromones are excreted in human milk; the infant should be monitored when the mother is using these drugs.

 

Safety Warnings For This Drug [top]

FDA BLACK-BOX WARNING
WARNING: NOT FOR TREATMENT OF OBESITY OR FOR WEIGHT LOSS

Thyroid hormones, either alone or with other therapeutic agents, should not be used for the treatment of obesity or for weight loss.

In patients with normal thyroid levels, doses within the range of daily hormonal requirements are ineffective for weight reduction.

Larger doses may produce serious or even life-threatening manifestations of toxicity, particularly when given in association with sympathomimetic amines (amphetamine stimulants) such as those used for their anorectic (appetite suppressive) effects.

Facts About This Drug [top]

Thyroid hormone replacement therapy is prescribed for patients who do not produce any, or enough, thyroid hormone.

Among the thyroid hormone replacement drugs, levothyroxine has been the preferred product for decades.[1],[2],[3] This pure, synthetic product produces the same activity as the natural hormone. It has the most reliable and uniform potency and is easier to monitor.[4] The starting dose depends on patient factors, such as age, weight, use of other medications and the presence of...

Thyroid hormone replacement therapy is prescribed for patients who do not produce any, or enough, thyroid hormone.

Among the thyroid hormone replacement drugs, levothyroxine has been the preferred product for decades.[1],[2],[3] This pure, synthetic product produces the same activity as the natural hormone. It has the most reliable and uniform potency and is easier to monitor.[4] The starting dose depends on patient factors, such as age, weight, use of other medications and the presence of heart disease. Extra caution to avoid overdosing is needed for the elderly and patients with heart disease.

The dose of thyroid hormone replacement drugs initially is adjusted every four to six weeks, based on thyroid blood test results along with patient symptoms, until an optimal steady (maintenance) dose is reached. Once a stable effective dose is achieved, thyroid blood tests should be checked annually.[5]

Liothyronine is the synthetic version of the most active thyroid hormone (T3).[6] It is almost totally absorbed within four hours after oral intake, resulting in a sudden high drug level in the blood, which can lead to more adverse effects than seen with levothyroxine.[7] But liothyronine drug levels then fall off rapidly within hours, which means that levels of the drug in the blood do not remain steady throughout the day. This makes it necessary to take multiple daily doses to maintain the drug’s effect.[8] Another concern about taking this drug is that the body no longer naturally regulates the conversion of T4 to T3 according to its needs. The American Thyroid Association does not recommend the use of this drug to treat hypothyroidism. We have classified this drug as Limited Use. We do not recommend it for the maintenance (long-term) treatment of hypothyroidism.

Liotrix contains a combination of levothyroxine and liothyronine. Because it contains much more liothyronine than is naturally produced in the body, this drug is subject to the same problems as liothyronine-only treatment. Therefore, we do not recommend this drug as maintenance therapy for hypothyroidism and classify it as Limited Use.

Thyroid hormone treatment is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for weight loss. Unscrupulous diet doctors have prescribed thyroid hormone in combination with digitalis, amphetamines and diuretics, at times with fatal results.

Although low and high thyroid hormone levels can lead to infertility, some doctors prescribe thyroid hormone replacement drugs to women with infertility who have normal thyroid hormone levels. However, thyroid hormone replacement drugs are not approved by the FDA for treating infertility.

Potential for prescription-filling errors

Thyroid hormone replacement drugs come in a wide range of strengths, expressed as milligrams (mg) or micrograms (µg), which can be confusing. Compared with other drugs, thyroid hormone replacement drugs are more prone to errors in filling prescriptions. For example, 125 µg is the same as 0.125 mg. Errors may be made if leading zeros are missing or decimal points misplaced. Errors also may occur due to poor handwriting or unclear abbreviations.

Physicians are encouraged to print prescriptions for these drugs and to specify the strength in micrograms or state the strength in both milligrams and micrograms. Pharmacies should have computer alerts for doses over 200 µg.[9],[10]

Drug stability and potency

Evidence shows significant stability and potency problems with levothyroxine products. These products also fail to maintain potency through their expiration dates. Further, the amount of active ingredient can vary in tablets from the same manufacturer with the same labeled dosage strength. Such variations in drug potency present actual safety and effectiveness concerns.

Some endocrinologists were concerned in the early 2000s about differences in the potency of levothyroxine products over time. As a result, the FDA in 2007 established new requirements for all levothyroxine products to ensure that they remain stable over their entire shelf lives.[8] The agency also concluded that approved generic products are as effective as brand-name products. However, the American Thyroid Association still advises patients to use the same brand or generic formulation throughout treatment and to have thyroid function tests checked after any change in drug formulation.[7]

Levothyroxine is unstable in the presence of light, high temperature, air and humidity. Subpotent tablets (tablets with too little levothyroxine) will not be effective in controlling the symptoms of low thyroid hormone production (hypothyroid).

Patients who receive superpotent tablets (tablets that have too much levothyroxine) can experience adverse effects from overtreatment (see below).

Adverse effects

The adverse effects of thyroid hormone replacement drugs usually are caused by overtreatment, which results in symptoms of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

Cardiovascular complications (irregular heartbeat, chest pain or even heart attack) are the most serious adverse effects.[11] Osteoporosis (bone loss) also can occur if high doses are taken for a long time, increasing the risk of fractures. Other adverse effects include rapid heart rate, palpitations, tremors, anxiety, sweating and weight loss.

People who are older or who have heart problems or myxedema (boggy swelling of the face, hands and, occasionally, legs caused by hypothyroidism) should be started on low doses of thyroid hormone replacement therapy, which can then be increased gradually if necessary.[12]

Studies show...

An article was published in the British Medical Journal in April 2011 discussing the outcome of a study conducted to investigate the association of levothyroxine with an increased risk of fractures in patients. The authors of the study found that, based on the dose of levothyroxine used in treatment, patients 70 years and older experienced an increased risk of fractures. According to the article, the increased risk of fractures observed in this population (70 years and older) was a “dose-response” relationship.[13]

Before You Use This Drug [top]

Tell your doctor if you have or have had:

  • allergies, including to aspirin, iodine, lactose, pork, or tartrazine
  • Addison’s disease or adrenal gland problems
  • bowel disease
  • heart disease, such as angina, arteriosclerosis, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • diabetes
  • hyperthyroidism
  • hypothyroidism
  • malabsorption conditions, such as celiac disease
  • myxedema
  • pituitary gland problems
  • pregnancy or are breast-feeding
  • thyrotoxicosis being treated with antithyroid medication

Tell your doctor about any other drugs you take, including aspirin, herbs, vitamins, and other nonprescription products.

When You Use This Drug [top]

  • Be vigilant in checking both new and refilled prescriptions. Check for color, shape, correct strength, and manufacturer. If your medication appears to be different, inquire about this from the pharmacist before leaving the pharmacy. It is usually best to stick with a product from the same manufacturer instead of switching brands.
  • Tell any doctor, dentist, pharmacist, or surgeon you see that you take thyroid.

How to Use This Drug [top]

  • If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember, but skip it if it is almost time for the next dose. Do not take double doses.
  • Do not share your medication with others.
  • Take the drug at the same time(s) each day, usually before breakfast.
  • Swallow tablet(s) with water. Thyroid is absorbed better without food.
  • If tablets are scored, break tablets as appropriate to your dose.
  • Levothyroxine tablets may be crushed and placed in baby formula or water, or sprinkled on applesauce or cereal, or given via a nasogastric tube. Preparation of such doses should be fresh and not saved.
  • Contact your doctor if you miss two or more doses in a row.
  • Store tablets at room temperature with lid on tightly. Do not store in the bathroom. Do not expose to heat, moisture, or strong light. Keep out of reach of children.
  • Check with your doctor before you stop taking this drug.

Interactions with Other Drugs [top]

The following drugs, biologics (e.g., vaccines, therapeutic antibodies), or foods are listed in Evaluations of Drug Interactions 2003 as causing “highly clinically significant” or “clinically significant” interactions when used together with any of the drugs in this section. In some sections with multiple drugs, the interaction may have been reported for one but not all drugs in this section, but we include the interaction because the drugs in this section are similar to one another. We have also included potentially serious interactions listed in the drugs’ FDA-approved professional package insert or in published medical journal articles. There may be other drugs, especially those in the families of drugs listed below, that also will react with this drug to cause severe adverse effects. Make sure to tell your doctor and pharmacist the drugs you are taking and tell them if you are taking any of these interacting drugs:

If you take these drugs with thyroid, risk of heart complications increases: ADRENALIN, amitriptyline, bee-sting kits, ELAVIL, epinephrine, imipramine, KETALAR, ketamine, LUDIOMIL, maprotiline.

If you take anticoagulants or drugs for diabetes, extra monitoring may be required, especially if you stop, start, or change doses of either thyroid or: acarbose, acetohexamide, ACTOS, AMARYL, AVANDIA, chlorpropamide, COUMADIN, DIABINESE, DIAMICRON, DYMELOR, glicaside, glimepiride, glipizide, GLUCOPHAGE, GLUCOTROL, GLUCOVANCE, glyburide, GLYNASE, insulin, metformin, nateglinide, ORINASE, pioglitazone, PRANDIN, PRECOSE, repalginide, rosiglitazone, STARLIX, tolazamide, tolbutamide, TOLINASE, warfarin.

Many other drugs can interact with thyroid products and may require adjustments in doses. These include: carbamazepine, digoxin, DILANTIN, LANOXIN, LUMINAL, oral contraceptives, oral estrogens, phenobarbital, phenytoin, PREMARIN, PREMPRO, RIFADIN, rifampin, rifapentine, RIMACTANE, ROFACT, TEGRETOL.

Some drugs are more apt to interact with thyroid in high doses. Of particular note are: DECADRON (dexamethasone) over 4 milligrams per day, Inderal (propranolol) over 160 milligrams per day, salicylates, such as aspirin or sodium salicyclate, over 2 grams (2,000 milligrams) per day.

The following drugs may prevent absorption of thyroid drugs. If you take these, take four to five hours apart from thyroid: ALUDROX, aluminum, antacids, calcium carbonate, CARAFATE, cholestyramine, COLESTID, colestipol, FEOSOL, ferrous sulfate, iron preparations, KAYEXALATE, MAALOX, magnesium, MYLICON, QUESTRAN, simethicone, sucralfate, TUMS.

If you take these drugs, it could affect results of thyroid monitoring tests: amiodarone, carbamazepine, CORDARONE, iodine, sertraline, TEGRETOL, ZOLOFT.

Adverse Effects [top]

Call your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • breathing difficulty
  • changes in appetite
  • chest pain
  • fever
  • headache that is severe in children (pseudotumor cerebri)
  • heartbeat becomes irregular or fast
  • irritability
  • leg cramps
  • menstrual periods change
  • nervousness
  • sensitivity to heat
  • skin rash or hives
  • sleeping problems
  • sweating profusely
  • vomiting
  • weight loss

Signs of overdose:

  • change in appetite
  • change in menstrual periods
  • chest pain
  • diarrhea
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • fever
  • hand tremors
  • headache
  • irritability
  • jaundice
  • leg cramps
  • mood swings
  • muscle wasting
  • nervousness
  • psychosis
  • restlessness
  • sensitivity to heat
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • trouble sleeping
  • vomiting
  • extreme weakness
  • weight loss

If you suspect an overdose, call this number to contact your poison control center: (800) 222-1222.

Call your doctor if you continue to experience:

  • clumsiness
  • coldness
  • constipation
  • hair loss
  • headaches
  • listlessness
  • menstrual periods change
  • muscle aches
  • sleepiness
  • tiredness
  • skin is dry, puffy
  • weakness
  • weight gain

Periodic Tests[top]

Ask your doctor which of these tests should be done periodically while you are taking this drug:

  • measurement of bone age and density
  • measurement of growth
  • measurement of psychomotor development
  • observation for signs of ischemia or tachyarrhythmias
  • TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone); T-3 (triiodothyronine); free T-4 (thyroxine); T-4 resin uptake determinations; or total serum T-3 or T-4 (thyroid function tests)

last reviewed June 30, 2021