What Happens When You Don't Take Your Thyroid Medication

Consequences can be quite serious

If you have thyroid disease and don't take your prescribed medications to manage it, you can have a number of serious long-term effects. Some of the effects of skipping or stopping your thyroid medication are obvious, while others are so subtle they can go undiagnosed for years.

This article covers the possible risks of not taking your hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism medication. It also offers solutions for some of the common reasons why people quit their thyroid medication, and what to consider if you feel like stopping yours.

risks of not taking thyroid medication
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Effects of Skipping Thyroid Hormone Replacement

If you are hypothyroid—whether due to Hashimoto's, Graves' disease treatment, thyroid surgery, or congenital hypothyroidism—failing to take your thyroid hormone replacement medication can pose many risks to your health.

These risks include:

  • Changes in blood pressure
  • High cholesterol that is difficult to treat
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Low body temperature; constantly feeling cold
  • Fatigue, muscle weakness, or joint pain
  • Depression
  • Memory problems
  • Weight gain; inability to lose weight despite diet and exercise
  • Infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature labor
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Swollen hands, feet, and face
  • Growth of thyroid nodules, increasing goiter size
  • Increased risk of infection

If you lack thyroid hormone for a long period of time, you face the risk of a very dangerous condition called myxedema coma, which can ultimately be fatal.

Effects of Skipping Antithyroid Medication

If you have Graves' disease, toxic nodules, thyroiditis, or another cause of hyperthyroidism, you may need to take antithyroid medication such as methimazole or propylthiouracil (PTU). If you skip or stop your medicine entirely, you can experience a number of short-term and long-term consequences, including:

  • Debilitating weight loss
  • Dramatically increased appetite and thirst
  • Nervousness, anxiety, panic attacks
  • Heat intolerance, sweating
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Goiter/enlarged thyroid
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid pulse or heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Itching
  • Tremors
  • Hair loss
  • Protruding eyes

Untreated hyperthyroidism can increase your risk of stroke or heart attack. It can also increase the risk of developing a dangerous condition known as thyroid storm, which has a high fatality rate.

Recap

Skipping or stopping your antithyroid medication or thyroid hormone replacement will lead to undesirable and possibly dangerous effects. Not taking your medication also increases your risk of fatal conditions like myxedema coma if you are hypothyroid, and thyroid storm if you are hyperthyroid.

Solutions for Common Concerns

Clearly, there are sensible health reasons to take your prescribed thyroid medication. There are experiences, however, that may cause you to question the benefits of your medications and not stick with your treatment plan.

If you are not taking your thyroid medication because of one or more of the following reasons, try the suggested solutions to address your concerns.

You Don't Feel Any Better

Thyroid medications usually do not work right away. It can take a few days to a few weeks for you to even start noticing a difference in how you feel. If you don't feel better after taking your medication for several months, you may need a dose adjustment or a different medication—not a complete stop of your regimen.

You Experience New or Worsening Symptoms

If you have lived with untreated thyroid disease for years, you may have gotten used to living with symptoms. When starting medication, your appetite may change, you may be feeling tired, or you could have a change in your bowel movements.

Some thyroid medications can also cause hair loss, which most people find frustrating and undesirable.

Talk to your doctor about these issues, as they can be the effects of your thyroid hormone levels getting back to normal. Or, you could be experiencing over-treatment, meaning that you need a dose adjustment or a different medication.

You're Worried About Side Effects

The risk of serious side effects due to thyroid medication is extremely small—far lower than the risks of remaining untreated. Side effects are also most likely to occur within the first three months of treatment, so keep that in mind if you are beginning a new regimen.

You Can't Afford Your Medication

Paying for medications can be stressful. It is a smart investment to get affordable health insurance if you don't already have it. If you are covered by Medicare or Medicaid coverage, your thyroid treatments should be paid for under these plans.

It's Difficult to Remember to Take Your Dose

There are a number of strategies you can use to remember to take your thyroid medication. Your phone, computer, or another alarm can be programmed to give you a daily reminder. You can keep your medicine in an obvious place, such as your bedroom or kitchen, or you can use a pill organizer to keep you on track.

You'd Prefer to Use Natural Remedies

Unfortunately, there isn't a natural or herbal replacement for thyroid hormone. Just like a person with type 1 diabetes needs insulin, you need thyroid hormone for survival. And there are no natural substitutes for antithyroid medications, either.

You Like How Hyperthyroidism Makes You Feel

Hyperthyroidism can cause unwanted symptoms like anxiety and excessive sweating. But it can also cause weight loss and a reduced need for sleep, which some people actually welcome.

While you may experience some symptoms of overactive thyroid more than others, and you may even consider some of them beneficial, it is important to be aware of the strain this condition is putting on your heart, bones, and overall health.

Recap

Thyroid medication can be expensive and can sometimes cause undesirable side effects, especially in the first three months of treatment. Many people prefer natural remedies or don't think their medication is helping. These are valid concerns, but they are not reasons to stop taking your medication; the risks of going untreated are far too serious.

Talk to Your Doctor

You need to be involved in the decisions regarding your care, and how you feel about your medication and its effects are of great importance.

With a thyroid condition, your symptoms can be a good reflection of how well the medication is working. But the symptoms and side effects associated with thyroid disease can make it difficult to know whether you feel better overall with or without your thyroid medication.

If you are feeling unsure about your thyroid medication, it is a good idea to think about the reasons why and to talk about them with your doctor. Furthermore, you should fully understand the consequences of untreated thyroid disease.

Summary

Not taking your hypothyroid or hyperthyroid medication can cause undesirable, dangerous, and even life-threatening conditions, ranging from fatigue and changes in blood pressure to death.

If you are feeling conflicted about your thyroid medication, discuss your concerns with your doctor. You may need a different medication or a dose adjustment, but you should never quit your medication without your doctor's approval.

A Word From Verywell

Most people who have thyroid disease feel better with the appropriate medication. However, thyroid disease is complicated, and you can develop new symptoms when you begin your treatment, either due to the wrong medication dose or the way that your body responds to the medication.

Sometimes it can take a few months to adjust your medication, but the end result is well worth it. Again, be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor and do not stop taking your medication without consulting with them first.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gaitonde DY, Rowley K, Sweeney L. Hypothyroidism: An update. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Aug;86(3):244-251.

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).