Hypothyroidism: Diagnosis and Treatment

Am Fam Physician. 2021 May 15;103(10):605-613.


Clinical hypothyroidism affects one in 300 people in the United States, with a higher prevalence among female and older patients. Symptoms range from minimal to life-threatening (myxedema coma); more common symptoms include cold intolerance, fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, constipation, and voice changes. The signs and symptoms that suggest thyroid dysfunction are nonspecific and nondiagnostic, especially early in disease presentation; therefore, a diagnosis is based on blood levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone and free thyroxine. There is no evidence that population screening is beneficial. Symptom relief and normalized thyroid-stimulating hormone levels are achieved with levothyroxine replacement therapy, started at 1.5 to 1.8 mcg per kg per day. Adding triiodothyronine is not recommended, even in patients with persistent symptoms and normal levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone. Patients older than 60 years or with known or suspected ischemic heart disease should start at a lower dosage of levothyroxine (12.5 to 50 mcg per day). Women with hypothyroidism who become pregnant should increase their weekly dosage by 30% up to nine doses per week (i.e., take one extra dose twice per week), followed by monthly evaluation and management. Patients with persistent symptoms after adequate levothyroxine dosing should be reassessed for other causes or the need for referral. Early recognition of myxedema coma and appropriate treatment is essential. Most patients with subclinical hypothyroidism do not benefit from treatment unless the thyroid-stimulating hormone level is greater than 10 mIU per L or the thyroid peroxidase antibody is elevated.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Monitoring / methods*
  • Female
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy / methods
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism* / complications
  • Hypothyroidism* / diagnosis
  • Hypothyroidism* / physiopathology
  • Hypothyroidism* / therapy
  • Male
  • Patient Acuity
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications* / blood
  • Pregnancy Complications* / therapy
  • Symptom Assessment / methods*
  • Thyroid Function Tests / methods*
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood
  • Thyrotropin / blood
  • Thyroxine* / administration & dosage
  • Thyroxine* / adverse effects


  • Thyroid Hormones
  • Thyrotropin
  • Thyroxine