An Overview of Thyroid and Antithyroid Drugs

In this NCLEX review video, we will look at the function of the thyroid and drugs used to treat thyroid disorders. Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are often seen in patients, and the nurse needs to know the proper treatment. While discussing the goals of treatment, we will look at the indications for thyroid and antithyroid drugs, the therapeutic effects, adverse effects, patient teaching, as well as several examples.

Thyroid & Antithyroid Drugs

                                            Thyroid & Antithyroid Drugs

Welcome to this video tutorial on thyroid and antithyroid drugs.

The thyroid gland is the largest endocrine gland in the body. It produces three hormones – thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), and calcitonin, which functions in calcium metabolism. The hypothalamus secretes thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH), which causes the pituitary gland to produce thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones control the rate of cellular metabolism, therefore influencing the functioning of nearly every cell in the body. The heart, liver, kidneys, and skeletal muscle are especially responsive to the stimulating effects of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are required for normal growth and development and are considered especially critical for brain and skeletal development and maturation.

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are two types of thyroid disorders requiring drug therapy. These disorders produce opposing effects on the body. For more details on hyperthyroidism, see our video on ‘Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism.’

Thyroid hormone is required for normal body functioning and for life. The goal of treatment with thyroid & antithyroid drugs is to restore the patient to a euthyroid state (having normal thyroid function) with normal metabolism.

Thyroid drugs provide an exogenous source of thyroid hormone. They are indicated for hypothyroidism, cretinism (a childhood congenital form), and myxedema (a severe adult form).

Antithyroid drugs act by decreasing production or release of thyroid hormones. They are given for hyperthyroidism associated with Graves’ disease, nodular goiter, thyroiditis, overtreatment with thyroid drugs, thyroid carcinoma, pituitary adenoma that secretes excessive amounts of TSH, & thyroid storm. For more details on Graves’ disease & thyroid storm, check out our ‘Graves’ Disease’ video.

There is a black box warning from the FDA concerning the use of thyroid hormones for the treatment of weight loss. There is no evidence that thyroid preparations lead to weight loss, and larger doses are associated with life-threatening toxicity.

The goal of thyroid replacement therapy in hypothyroidism is to administer a sufficient dosage to compensate for the thyroid deficit, so as to restore normal concentrations of thyroid hormones and provide relief of symptoms.

Levothyroxine (aka Synthroid, Levoxyl, & Levothroid) is a synthetic form of thyroxine (T4) and is the standard replacement therapy for patients with hypothyroidism. The medication is given orally and is best absorbed on an empty stomach. It is therefore recommended to give in the morning, 30 minutes before breakfast. It should also be taken alone because other medications can decrease its effect. Check the pulse rate before giving; a rate over 100 may indicate adverse cardiac effects. It takes approximately 4-6 weeks to achieve a steady state after initiation of the drug. For most patients, the daily dose ranges from 50-200 mcg per day. Different formulations at the same dose can result in different TSH values in an individual, therefore whether brand-name or generic, it is important for the patient to stick with one formulation.

For congenital hypothyroidism (cretinism), drug therapy should be started within 6 weeks of birth and continued for life or mental retardation may result.

Therapeutic effects of thyroid drugs include returning to normal metabolic activities, including:

     Increased energy and activity level
     Increased alertness and appetite
     Increased pulse rate and temperature
     Decreased constipation
     Reversal of skin and hair problems
     Decreased serum cholesterol

Adverse effects of thyroid drugs usually stem from excessive doses, and are the signs & symptoms occurring with hyperthyroidism, including:

     Tachycardia, palpitations, and other cardiac dysrhythmias
     Myocardial infarction
     Congestive heart failure
     Abdominal cramps
     Nausea and vomiting
     Weight loss
     Intolerance to heat

Patient teaching for Levothyroxine includes the following:

– For best absorption, take every morning, on an empty stomach. Do not take it with an antacid, iron preparation, or sucralfate – these drugs decrease absorption of levothyroxine. If one of these drugs must be taken, take the levothyroxine 2 hours before the other drug.

– Take your medication about the same time each day for more consistent blood levels and more normal body metabolism.

– Periodic tests of thyroid function are needed & may indicate adjustments in medication dosage.

– Do not switch from one brand name to another, as the effects may be different.

– Levothyroxine stimulates the CNS and the heart. Consult a healthcare provider before taking OTC drugs that stimulate the heart or cause nervousness (cold remedies, decongestants, asthma remedies). Also limit intake of caffeine-containing drinks to 2-3 servings daily, to avoid excessive stimulation.

– Report chest pain, heart palpitations, nervousness, or insomnia – these adverse effects are a result of excessive stimulation & may indicate the need to adjust drug dosage or decrease other stimulants.

– Levothyroxine therapy for hypothyroidism is lifelong – stopping it may lead to life-threatening illness.

When treating hyperthyroidism, the goals are to reduce the thyroid’s excess production of T4 and T3 hormones, restore TSH & thyroid hormones to normal, relieve symptoms, and avoid complete destruction of the thyroid gland.

Antithyroid drugs include thioamide derivatives and iodine preparations. Thioamide derivatives include propylthiouracil (PTU) and methimazole. Iodine preparations include Lugol’s solution and SSKI (potassium iodide). Thioamide drugs may be used as the primary treatment or to decrease blood levels of thyroid hormone before radioactive iodine therapy or surgery. A thioamide drug is given to produce a euthyroid state, and an iodine preparation is then given to reduce the size and vascularity of the thyroid gland. This combination is given as a short-term treatment of hyperthyroidism, as in thyroid storm or in preparation for thyroidectomy. Propylthiouracil (PTU) is a thioamide derivative and the prototype of antithyroid drugs. It works by inhibiting production of thyroid hormones and converting T4 to the more active T3. It is well absorbed when taken orally, but the duration of action is rather short, so it must be taken every 8 hours. The usual dose for adults is initially 300-400 mg/day until the patient is euthyroid, then it decreases to 100-150 mg/day for maintenance therapy. PTU is metabolized in the liver and excreted in the urine. It does carry an FDA black box warning regarding severe liver injury and acute liver failure. PTU should be reserved for patients who cannot tolerate methimazole.

Methimazole (Tapazole) is similar to PTU and must also be taken orally every 8 hours. The patient is given 15-60 mg/day initially, then it decreases to 5-15 mg/day for maintenance. The rate of liver injury is considerably less with methimazole; however, it has shown 3 times more birth defects than PTU, when taken in the first trimester of pregnancy. Therefore, PTU is the preferred drug of choice during the first trimester.

Patient teaching for PTU and Methimazole include the following:

– Medication should be taken around the clock, every 8 hours.

– Periodic tests of thyroid function and drug dosage adjustments are needed.

– It may be necessary to avoid or restrict iodide (such as seafood or iodized salt) – check with the physician.

– Report fever, sore throat, headache, skin rash, unusual bleeding or bruising, yellowing of the skin, or vomiting – these adverse effects may indicate the need to reduce drug dosage or discontinue drug.

– Consult a healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter drugs, as some contain iodide (such as cough syrups, multivitamins, and asthma medications). These drugs can increase the risk of adverse effects and goiter.

Radioactive iodine (I-131) is a frequently used treatment, usually given in a single dose, to destroy overactive thyroid tissue or to shrink a Goiter. Large doses of I-131 are used to destroy thyroid cancer cells. Hypothyroidism is a common side effect and must be treated with thyroid hormone replacement. Treatments with I-131 are generally safe, but patients need to follow radiation precautions after treatment to limit radiation exposure to others. Duration of precautions depend on the dose of treatment given, and include limiting time in public places for 1-3 days, keeping at least 6 feet distance from others, do not prepare food for others or share utensils for 2-3 days, and sleep separately from another adult for 1-11 days and from a pregnant adult or child for 6-23 days.

Antithyroid therapy is given in relatively large doses for 6-8 weeks, then a maintenance dose is continued until the patient is euthyroid for 6-12 months.

Therapeutic effects of antithyroid and iodine drugs:
   Slower pulse rate
   More normal activity level (less hyperactivity)
   Slower speech
   Decreased nervousness
   Decreased tremors
   Weight gain
   Improved ability to sleep and rest

Adverse effects of PTU and methimazole include:
    Blood disorders
    Skin rash, itching, hair loss
    Headache, dizziness, drowsiness, paresthesias, loss of taste
    Nausea/vomiting, abdominal discomfort

Adverse effects of iodine preparations includez:

-Metallic taste, burning in mouth, sore gums, excessive salivation, headache, rhinitis, red conjunctiva, edema of eyelids.

– Hypersensitivity – acneiform skin rash, itching, fever, jaundice, angioedema, serum sickness.

Let’s do a quick REVIEW.

Thyroid hormones are required for normal growth and development and are considered especially critical for brain and skeletal development and maturation.

Levothyroxine is the thyroid drug of choice for long-term treatment of hypothyroidism, it is a synthetic preparation of T4, and must be taken for life.

Antithyroid drugs used to treat hyperthyroidism include propylthiouracil (PTU), which is the prototype and can used alone, as preop preparation for thyroidectomy, before or after radioactive iodine therapy, and in treatment of thyroid storm. Other antithyroid drugs include methimazole and radioactive iodine.

Patients should be monitored closely for hypothyroidism while taking antithyroid drugs.

Provided by: Mometrix Test Preparation

Last updated: 05/30/2018
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