Levothyroxine is a drug used to treat underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism or thyroid hormone deficiency. It is a generic medicine manufactured by Actavis (tablet) and other manufacturers (in the case of the oral solution) containing the substance levothyroxine. This substance is an artificial version of the hormone thyroxine, acting as a hormone replacement treatment.
- Effective thyroxine replacement
- Reduces symptoms such as tiredness
- Simple tablet or oral solution
Hypothyroidism is a condition which affects around one to two percent of the UK population. According to the NHS, it is 15 times more prevalent in women than it is in men; one in 1,000 men are thought to have the condition compared with 15 in 1,000 women.
In the majority of cases, the condition is caused by an overactive immune system attacking the thyroid gland and preventing it from functioning properly. This causes a deficit in the production of triiodothyronine and thyroxine (referred to more commonly as T3 and T4), hormones which regulate energy use in the body.
When there is not enough of this hormone in the system, the rate at which it converts calories into energy will decrease and several faculties will be affected. Consequently, those with hypothyroidism will often experience symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue, weight fluctuations and possibly other symptoms such as feelings of depression, slow heart rate, dry skin and muscle cramps.
Hypothyroidism can lead to complications if it isn’t treated. Advanced cases might induce symptoms such as puffiness in the face, a slowed heart rate and sometimes anaemia and loss of hearing. Because the condition inhibits the body’s conversion of fats into energy, it can also lead to high cholesterol and increase the likelihood of cardiovascular problems developing such as angina. It can also cause a condition called goitre, where the thyroid gland becomes swollen and produces a visible lump in the throat.
Diagnosis of thyroid hormone deficiency is undertaken via a blood test. Where deficiency is found Levothyroxine may be issued. This is a treatment which works by replacing depleted thyroxine (T4) in the body. This helps the metabolic system to process fat into energy normally. During treatment with Levothyroxine, a doctor will usually continue to monitor thyroid levels until the correct amounts are present.
Once you have settled on a maintenance dose, however, you will still need to have your thyroid function monitored on a regular basis.
You cannot buy Levothyroxine from our online service. If you want to know more about this medication, make an appointment with your GP.
Make sure you read the patient information leaflet carefully prior to use and follow the instructions given by your prescribing doctor. This will help the medication to work at its best and lower the risk of side effects.
- Use as directed.
- Tablets should be taken with water.
- For the oral solution, an oral syringe is supplied, along with specific instructions.
- A typical starting dose is 50-100 micrograms daily, taken before the first meal of the day.
- This may be increased by your prescriber in 4-weekly intervals until your thyroxine production stabilises.
- For those over 50 with a heart condition, the dose may be lower.
- Levothyroxine is a long term treatment. Carry on taking the tablets or oral solution until your doctor instructs otherwise.
- Do not exceed the dose prescribed.
- If you miss a dose, you can take it when you remember provided your next dose is not due. If it is, skip the one you have missed and take the next dose at the scheduled time. Never take a double dose to compensate for the one you have missed.
The above is only a summary of the directions you will need to follow when using this medication. More information can be found in the leaflet provided.
If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, stop taking the tablets and contact your doctor or nearest hospital immediately. These signs may include swelling of the hands or feet, face, tongue, lips and throat, difficulty breathing, hives, itching, joint pain, or photosensitivity.
Patients should also visit their doctor straight away if they experience any signs of thyroid crisis. This is a condition where there is too much thyroid hormone in the body. Symptoms may include a very high temperature, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, heart failure, jaundice, confusion, fits or coma.
Other side effects
Headache, flushing, raised temperature, sweating, weight loss, tremor, restlessness, excitability, insomnia, benign intracranial hypertension, chest pain, pounding, irregular or fast heartbeat, diarrhoea, vomiting, muscle cramps or weakness, irregular periods, or increased sensitivity to heat.
Fast or irregular heart beats, palpitations, rash, itching, puffiness, chest pain, muscle cramps or weakness, headache, restlessness, excitability, flushing, sweating, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, menstruation problems, high blood pressure in the cranium, tremor, sleeplessness, heat intolerance or excessive weight loss.
The above is not an exhaustive list. Consult the leaflet for more detailed information.
Taking it with other medicines
Levothyroxine interacts with many different medications. It is important that you give your prescriber a complete list of the medications you are currently taking or have recently taken, be they prescription, non-prescription or remedial, so that they can ensure that this treatment is safe for you.
Conditions to look out for
This medication is not suitable for everyone. Those who have any of the following conditions should not use it: a heart attack (acute myocardial infarction), inflammation of the heart muscle (acute myocarditis) or inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (acute pancarditis); an allergy to levothyroxine or any other ingredients; an overactive thyroid; or any condition affecting the adrenal glands.
Your prescriber also needs to know if you have: had hypothyroidism for a long time; other heart problems including angina, coronary artery disease or high blood pressure; lactose intolerance; diabetes; or if you are over 50 years of age.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Speak to your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to become pregnant before you take this medication.
Driving and machinery
It is unlikely that this medication will interfere with your ability to drive or operate machines.
This treatment contains the sugars known as lactose and sucrose. If you have been made aware of an intolerance to these substances, you should contact your doctor before commencing Levothyroxine treatment.
Can I still drink alcohol?
It is not known if alcohol causes any significant interactions with this medication. Check with your doctor during consultation.
Will I still be able to drive?
Yes, provided you experience no side effects that make it unsafe to do so. If you do, refrain from driving and contact your doctor immediately.
Can I take the medicine while pregnant?
It may not be suitable in some cases. Discuss the use of this medication with your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to become pregnant.
How should I store it?
In a safe place below 25°C and out of the reach of children.
Am I allergic to anything in the medicine?
This tablet contains: levothyroxine sodium, lactose, magnesium stearate, maize starch, stearic acid and pregelatinised maize starch.
In the oral solution are the following ingredients: levothyroxine sodium anhydrous, glycerol, citric acid monohydrate, sodium methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E219), sodium hydroxide and purified water.
Do not use the above if you are allergic to any of these ingredients.
Is it available over-the-counter?
Levothyroxine is only available to buy in the UK on prescription.
Is it right for me?
If you are having underactive thyroid symptoms for the first time, or think you may be having symptoms but are not currently on treatment, see your GP. They will help you to determine whether treatment is necessary, and the best option for your condition. We do not provide treatment for underactive thyroid. If you are looking to renew a prescription for this medication, you should consult with your doctor.
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