You may already know that thyroid disease is one of the most common endocrine problems in the United States. According to statistics, more than 20 million Americans suffer from one form of thyroid disease or another.
But what you might not know is that certain medications commonly used to treat these conditions are available over-the-counter and can be purchased without a prescription.
These medications — synthetic versions of natural hormones known as levothyroxine sodium, liothyronine sodium, and triiodothyronine — are known collectively as “thyroid hormone replacement therapy.”
They are taken daily to help control the body’s natural production of thyroid hormone and its absorption of iodine. There are several reasons why someone with a thyroid condition might choose to use OTC thyroid medication instead of seeing their doctor for a prescription and follow-up treatment.
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What is the reason for taking OTC thyroid medication?
The two most common reasons why someone might take thyroid hormone replacement therapy are to manage hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Individuals who suffer from hypothyroidism typically have an underactive thyroid gland that produces insufficient amounts of thyroid hormone.
This condition can cause a wide range of symptoms, including weight gain, fatigue, depression, muscle aches, and difficulty concentrating. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, is marked by an overactive thyroid, which leads to an excess production of thyroid hormone. This condition may cause symptoms like weight loss, tremors, anxiety, insomnia, and an increased heart rate.
While these conditions can be treated with thyroid hormone replacement therapy, some people may choose to buy over-the-counter instead of seeing their doctor. This may be a good choice for certain individuals, such as those who don’t have health insurance or those who don’t want to navigate the insurance system. Others may prefer to buy over-the-counter supplements because they’re less expensive than traditional prescriptions.
Why might you choose to buy over-the-counter instead of seeing a doctor?
If you have a condition that can be treated with thyroid hormone replacement therapy, you may want to buy over-the-counter instead of seeing your doctor for a prescription. There are several reasons why this may make sense for you, including:
You may not qualify for treatment. If you have no health insurance, it can be difficult to get treatment for conditions like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Even if you do have coverage, it can be difficult to navigate a system that often prioritizes more serious conditions.
You may want to avoid an invasive procedure. If you have hyperthyroidism and have been diagnosed with Graves’ disease, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct the condition. While most surgeries are safe, they do come with certain risks, including infection, blood clots, and even death.
You may want to avoid a long and expensive treatment process. Some people don’t want to be on a daily treatment plan for the rest of their lives, and they may prefer to use a short-term solution that they can buy over-the-counter and use until their condition is resolved.
Which medications are available over-the-counter?
Certain medications used to treat hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are available over-the-counter. These include:
- Synthroid (levothyroxine sodium)
- Thyroid-S (liothyronine sodium)
- Nature-throid (liothyronine sodium)
- Armour (liothyronine sodium)
- Erfa Thyroid (liothyronine sodium)
- Nature Thyroid (liothyronine sodium)
- Westhroid (liothyronine sodium)
- Nature-throid for Her (liothyronine sodium)
- Thyroid-S for Her (liothyronine sodium)
- Thyroid-S for Her Ultra Strength (liothyronine sodium)
- Armour for Her (liothyronine sodium)
- Nature Thyroid for Her (liothyronine sodium)
- Westhroid-H (liothyronine sodium)
You should note that many of these medications come in different forms. At the time of this writing, Armour Thyroid and Nature Thyroid are the only two that are purely natural. Most other options are synthetics, meaning that they are chemical copies of the body’s natural thyroid hormones.
Are there any risks associated with buying these medications over the counter?
There’s no question that you should always talk to your doctor before switching to an OTC treatment. In some cases, your doctor may be able to modify your existing therapy or treatment plan so that you can buy over-the-counter supplements. You should also be aware of these risks associated with buying over-the-counter thyroid medication:
You may not be getting an appropriate dosage. If you have a serious thyroid condition, you should be taking a large dosage of thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Many OTC supplements come with a very small dose that won’t adequately address your condition. Likewise, some brands don’t contain the same dosage as their prescription counterparts.
You may not be getting the right type. Different people respond differently to synthetic and natural thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Your body may be more likely to respond to one type than another, so you should be sure to choose the right type for your condition.
If you have a thyroid condition and want to buy over-the-counter supplements, make sure you do your homework. You should talk to your doctor to get a proper diagnosis, and you should talk to a pharmacist to find out which brands and types are appropriate for your condition.
Remember that while OTC supplements are a great option for some people, they’re not a good choice for everyone. You should always be sure to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your treatment plan.