What Happens When You Don't Take Your Thyroid Medication

Consequences can be quite serious

If you don't take thyroid medications for your thyroid disease, you can experience a number of serious long-term effects. Some of the effects of skipping or discontinuing your thyroid medication are obvious, while others are subtle or can even remain unnoticeable for years.

risks of not taking thyroid medication
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Effects of Skipping Your Thyroid Hormone Replacement Medication

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:

  • Blood pressure irregularities
  • Elevated cholesterol, including treatment-resistant high cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease
  • Low body temperature; feeling perpetually 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
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Loss or reduction of sex drive
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Swollen hands, feet, and face
  • Growth of thyroid nodules, increasing goiter size
  • Increased risk of infection

Ultimately, if you are deprived of thyroid hormone for a long period of time, you face the risk of a very dangerous condition—myxedema coma—which can ultimately be fatal.

Of particular importance, if you have had thyroid cancer, you can actually face an increased risk of thyroid cancer recurrence if you don't take your medication.

Effects of Skipping Your 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 completely discontinue your medicine, you can experience a number of short-term and long-term consequences, including:

  • Debilitating weight loss or weight gain
  • Dramatically increased appetite and thirst
  • Nervousness, anxiety, panic attacks
  • Heat intolerance, sweating
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Goiter/enlarged thyroid
  • Muscle weakness
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid pulse, heart palpitations, or 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.

Reasons and Solutions

Clearly, there are sensible health reasons to take your prescribed thyroid medication. There are experiences, however, that may cause you to question the benefits, as well as preferences and circumstances that can influence how well you adhere to your medication plan.

If you are not taking your thyroid medication because of one or more of the following reasons, take the provided advice to heart so that you can seek changes that both keep you feeling your best and address your concerns.

You Don't Feel Any Better

Thyroid medications do not usually work rapidly. 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 dosage adjustment or a change in 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 experience a change in your bowel movements.

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

Discuss these issues with your doctor, as they can be the effects of normalization of your thyroid hormone levels or even overtreatment of your condition. You may need a dose adjustment or a different medication.

You're Worried About Side Effects

Keep in mind that the risk of serious side effects is extremely small, and it is far lower than the risks of remaining untreated. Side effects are also most likely to occur within the first three months of treatment, so that is the time to be most vigilant.

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 in your bedroom, bathroom, 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.

You Like How Hyperthyroidism Makes You Feel

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

Feeling Conflicted About Your Thyroid Medication

You need to be involved in the decisions regarding your care, and how you feel about your medication and its effects are of central importance. With a thyroid condition, your symptoms can be a good reflection of how well the medication is working. But the constellation of 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.

Since you may be conflicted about your thyroid medication, it is a good idea to think about your reasons for feeling so conflicted, to discuss these reasons with your doctor, and to fully understand the consequences of untreated thyroid disease.

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 compensates and 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 cease taking your medication without consulting with her first.

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