While propylthiouracil is often used to treat hyperthyroidism (a condition that results from an overactive thyroid), it is not suitable for everyone. This medicine is typically reserved for people who cannot tolerate methimazole or for pregnant women in their first trimester. Children can take it, but only if no other treatment options are available.
What Is Propylthiouracil Used For?Propylthiouracil (PTU) is a prescription medication used to treat an overactive thyroid (known medically as hyperthyroidism). Because of the risk of serious liver problems with this drug, it is usually reserved for people who cannot use other treatments (such as methimazole) or for women in their first trimester of pregnancy.
In people with hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. There are several hyperthyroidism causes, the most common of which is Graves' disease.
Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include but are not limited to:
- Feeling warm and being unable to tolerate heat
- Feeling nervous, restless, or jittery
- Weight loss despite increased appetite
- An enlarged thyroid gland (a goiter)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- A rapid or irregular heart rate.
While some people may find certain symptoms of hyperthyroidism (such as weight loss) to be desirable, this is a serious condition that needs to be treated. Treatment for an overactive thyroid can vary, depending on the cause and other factors, but may include:
- Antithyroid medications (like propylthiouracil or methimazole)
- Surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland
- Radioactive destruction of all or part of the thyroid gland using radioactive iodine.
While surgical or radioactive treatment can cure hyperthyroidism, most people who undergo these procedures will need to take thyroid replacement medication (such as Synthroid®) for the rest of their lives.
Antithyroid medications like propylthiouracil are useful for the following circumstances:
- Controlling hyperthyroidism while a person prepares for surgery or radioactive iodine treatment
- If a person is not a good candidate for surgical or radioactive iodine treatment
- To treat excessively high thyroid hormone levels (a "thyroid storm") that sometimes occur as the result of thyroid surgery or radioactive treatment.