There are many reasons you might opt to skip your thyroid medication. Maybe it seems harder to lose weight, or you feel anxious, nervous or are fatigued more often. Maybe the medicine doesn’t seem to work fast enough. It’s not a good idea to stop taking your medication.
Common Thyroid Conditions
Have you been diagnosed with hypothyroidism or related conditions such as Hashimoto’s or thyroiditis, due to an underactive thyroid gland? A medication called levothyroxine is commonly prescribed to help increase the level of thyroid hormone in your system.
The flip side is hyperthyroidism and associated conditions such as Grave’s disease, when your thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. In these cases, thioamide therapies such as methimazole or propylthiouracil may be used to help prevent the production of excess thyroid hormone.
What Body Functions Do Thyroid Hormone Levels Affect?
Your body produces and releases thyroid hormones including thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Once your thyroid releases the T4 into your bloodstream, certain cells in your body transform it into T3, which then signals your organs how to operate properly.
T3 and T4 hormones affect every cell and all organs in your body by:
- Regulating the rate your body uses calories (energy). This is known as your metabolic rate and affects weight loss or weight gain
- Speeding up or slowing down your heart rate
- Raising or lowering body temperature
- Influencing how quickly food moves through your digestive tract
- Controlling brain development
- Directing the way your muscles contract
- Managing the rate your body replaces dying cells (a normal process), which plays a role in skin and bone maintenance
When your thyroid hormones levels are balanced — not too high or too low – your organs function properly. But when your body makes and converts too much or too little thyroid hormone, your organ function is thrown off, and your internal system doesn’t work the way it should.
This is where thyroid medications come in to correct the symptoms and effects of hormone overproduction or underproduction. And, once you’re on thyroid medication, it’s vitally important to not suddenly discontinue it without first speaking with your doctor.
Why People Skip Thyroid Medications
Thyroid medications can take eight weeks or more to ease symptoms. Nobody wants to think that there might be something else going on. So, you might feel that skipping a few doses could help remedy your symptoms.
But that’s not necessarily the case.
In cases of Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease, symptoms have a habit of waxing and waning. During a period where symptoms improve, you may wonder if your medication is necessary.
However, starting and stopping medications designed to ensure your body’s systems work properly can lead to other problems — especially when your condition can affect nearly every organ you have. If you suddenly stop your thyroid medication, you may be at risk of potentially serious symptoms, including:
- Blood pressure changes
- Fatigue, muscle weakness or joint pain
- Memory problems
- Weight gain, despite diet and exercise
- Infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth or premature labor
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Hair loss
If you suddenly stop medications that lower the amount of thyroid hormone in your system, you may increase chances of:
- Debilitating weight loss
- Nervousness, anxiety or panic attacks
- Fatigue or muscle weakness
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Rapid pulse or heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Hair loss
- Protruding (bulging) eyes
What To Do Instead
The good news is that thyroid conditions are manageable.
Fluctuations or changes in the amount of thyroid replacement hormone or anti-thyroid hormone medication needed can be very common. Therefore, thyroid hormone levels should be checked regularly, once or twice a year, to ensure you are getting the correct level of medication.Changes in activity and weight can affect the level of thyroid hormone being released into your system (and the amount of thyroid medication needed).
Talk to your healthcare team immediately if you experience changing symptoms, such as:
- Weight (unexplained gain/loss)
- Heart rate (slowed/accelerated)
- Excessive sweating/cold
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Unusual fatigue
Working with your doctor, you can get your thyroid levels regularly rechecked to ensure you’re on the right medication dosage. Just as important, openly communicating with your doctor is the right choice — instead of stopping your medication and hoping for the best — to confirm there aren’t other health issues going on in the background.
Remember: When it comes to your health and comfort during medication therapy, guessing isn’t best. Your doctor is your advocate. Talk to them about it.
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