It hit like a thunderstrike!
“Living without a thyroid! How?” It’s the first thing my uncle said after hearing the news!
My uncle is a man of mid-sixty who was on antithyroid medication for hyperthyroidism. However, when his symptoms got worse his doctor suggested a total removal of the gland.
Can you live without a thyroid? Will your life change after the surgery? Is ‘no thyroid’ better than medication? My uncle was panicking.
For patients considering irreversible thyroid treatment, these are common questions. And of course, life expectancy without a thyroid is another major query.
The simple answer is “yes”. You can live without a thyroid but with life-long medication and a modified lifestyle.
Table of Content
Thyroid: The Hormone Factory of Human Body
The thyroid gland is an essential part of the endocrine system in your body. This butterfly-shaped organ dwells in the base of your neck. It produces, stores, and releases hormones in your body using the iodine you eat.
The thyroid gland produces the two most active hormones in your body. They are Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). These hormones travel through your entire body to reach all your cells and create magic.
What does the thyroid do to your body? Simply put, it controls almost everything in your body. It regulates:
- Your metabolic rate
- Energy production
- Your body weight
- Your heartbeat rate
- Your body temperature
- The digestive tract
- Your muscles contract
- Reproduction of dying cells
- Regulating your mood
- Many more…
Therefore, T3 and T4 hormones must be at an optimal level in your body.
How Does The Thyroid works
The production and balance of T3 and T4 hormones are maintained by two brain glands. They are the hypothalamus and the pituitary.
These two glands constantly communicate to maintain the hormonal balance in your body.
The hypothalamus mainly signals the pituitary to release TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). This ‘TSH’ informs the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones.
This production of TSH depends on T3 and T4 levels in your blood.
When T3 and T4 levels are low, TSH production is high. So, the production of thyroid hormones is also high.
On the other hand, when T3 and T4 levels are high in your blood, the pituitary releases less TSH. They inform the thyroid to slow down hormone production.
When the hormones are not at an optimal level in your blood, your body may face some symptoms of thyroid disease.
The two main thyroid diseases are hypothyroidism (low production of thyroid hormones) and hyperthyroidism (excess production of thyroid hormones).
Can You Live Without a Thyroid
What happens if you have no thyroid? Will you die without a thyroid? Most importantly, can you live without a thyroid? The answer is “Yes”. You can live without a thyroid.
Thanks to our modern medicine, you can live a full happy life. You need thyroid medication, aka, thyroid replacement therapy. It will replace the absence of thyroid hormones in your body. I am sure you can stop worrying now about how long can you live without a thyroid.
However, without a thyroid, you may face symptoms of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid hormones). To prevent this, it is important to stick to your thyroid medication – one pill for the rest of your life.
Do not worry, thyroid hormone replacement therapy is not expensive. In addition, they are easily adjustable to your body with minimal or no side effects.
However, having no thyroid may decrease the quality of your life. It can cause heart disease, obesity, depression, and may shorten your life expectancy.
Reasons for Not Having Your Thyroid Gland
Can you live without a thyroid? The simple answer is yes, you can.
However, before booking the train for “living without a thyroid”, let us know the reasons for “no thyroid”.
Thyroidectomy is a surgical procedure. The doctors remove the partial or total thyroid gland from your neck through surgery. It is the most common reason that you have to live without your thyroid.
Doctors perform thyroidectomy if you have enlarged nodules, goiter, or thyroid cyst. The reason is the above conditions can affect your neck structure or breathing ability.
Hyperthyroidism (Graves’ Disease)
Hyperthyroidism or Graves’ disease is the discharge of too many hormones (T3 and T4). This excess hormone can damage tissues and cells in your body.
Medication can control the condition. However, the removal of the thyroid gland is its permanent solution.
Thyroid cancer is a major reason for which you can lose your thyroid. When cells in your thyroid undergo mutation, your cells grow abnormally and form a tumor. Result: thyroid cancer.
Thyroid cancer can cause severe danger to your body if it spreads to your lung and bone. The total removal of your thyroid gland is the best treatment for most thyroid cancer.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is one of the main reasons for hypothyroidism. In this condition, your immune system attacks your thyroid gland and causes inflammation. Slowly it stops the ability of your thyroid gland to produce any thyroid hormones.
Radioactive Iodine (RAI)
Radioactive iodine is the treatment of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or Graves’ disease. This is known as ablation therapy. It may interfere with your thyroid function. It also can destroy the ability to produce any hormones. Sometimes RAI can make hyperthyroidism turn into hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
What if you are born without a thyroid?
Sounds shocking? But babies born without having thyroid or malfunctioned thyroid. However, it is rare. This condition is congenital hypothyroidism. It can cause long-term intellectual and physical disabilities. The treatment is the same as the treatment followed after a thyroidectomy.
Several drugs and supplements may directly affect your thyroid function. Drugs like lithium, tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), interferon-alpha, and amiodarone have several side effects including thyroid autoimmunity where your gland eventually stops producing hormones.
When Thyroid Removal Is Necessary
Many people do not prefer thyroid removal. The reasons are obvious: what happens to your body after your thyroid is removed? Will you die without a thyroid?
Removing the thyroid is indeed a permanent change to your body as well as your lifestyle. However, for some unavoidable reasons, your doctor may suggest thyroidectomy or thyroid removal surgery.
Thyroid cancer is one major reason you need a thyroidectomy. If you have thyroid cancer, it is important to destroy all cancerous tissues. So removing the entire thyroid is the best treatment in this case.
Overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism sometimes requires total or partial removal of your thyroid. Uncontrolled excess hormones (T3 & T4) may cause severe damage to your body. It can affect your muscle, bones, cardiovascular systems, and your reproductive organs. Here, thyroidectomy is the only solution.
Thyroid nodules and thyroid goiters require thyroidectomy. If they raise the hormonal levels in your body or push against the esophagus and trachea you need surgery.
Not responding well to your medication? Sometimes this condition needs serious intervention like thyroidectomy for your total treatment.
Side Effects of Not Having A Thyroid
If you do not have a thyroid, your body is unable to produce any thyroid hormones. Therefore you may face some symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is a condition with a low thyroid hormone level. The symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Cold intolerance
- Sleep problems
- Brain fog
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Muscle cramps
- Joints pain
To prevent this, you need thyroid replacement therapy.
You may ask, can you live without a thyroid without medication? The answer is No.
You may face a Myxedema coma. It is a severe and fatal consequence. You may face it if you do not continue your thyroid replacement therapy. Generally, it results from long-lasting hypothyroidism.
So, you must take your thyroid medicine for the rest of your life.
Thyroid Medication for ‘No Thyroid’
Thyroid medication is a must if you do not have a thyroid. Usually, doctors prescribe medication with T4 or T3 or a combination of both. The commonly prescribed and available thyroid medicines are:
- NP Thyroid
- Armour Thyroid
While taking medications, remember to follow proper instructions to get the maximum result.
- Take your medication around the same time every day.
- Few medications should be taken on an empty stomach. Check with your doctor to be sure.
- Certain supplements like fiber supplements, calcium and iron supplements, or a multivitamin with minerals may interfere with your thyroid medication. So, consult with your doctor first.
- If you are on supplements currently, better to take them 3-4 hours after your thyroid medication. It will prevent poor medicine absorption.
Life without A Thyroid
Your life is of course different without a thyroid. Medication is your priority now. But, other factors need your attention to live healthily.
Healthy Diet means Healthy Living
If you want a healthy life a healthy diet is important. So, check what food you should eat and what foods to avoid if you have no thyroid.
There are few foods that you should avoid or eat at a moderate level. Foods like soy-based food, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli), and processed foods may interfere with your thyroid medication. It can worsen your health.
Also, avoid sugar, saturated fat, and frozen foods to avoid weight gain.
Sound Sleep Is Supportive and Stress Relief
Though you are taking medication, you may still feel weak and lethargic. So, aim for proper rest and sound sleep.
Sleep at least 8 hours every day.
If you have trouble sleeping, consult with your doctor for sleep therapy.
In addition, do something relaxing like reading, painting, or meditation to keep yourself stress-free.
Exercise Is Excellent
Exercise can help prevent many side effects of no thyroid. Not only will it keep your hypothyroidism at bay but also helps improve your mood, immune system, and body weight.
Start slowly. 10 to 15 minutes of exercise at least 3 days a week or two. Then gradually build up to 30 minutes of daily exercise every day.
Remember every move matters.
Regular Follow-Up Is A Must
Can you live without a thyroid? Yes, you can live without a thyroid. However, for this, you need medication to replace the thyroid hormone deficiency and regular follow-up appointments with your doctor.
Your doctor may check your TSH level – a simple blood test every year – to check if you are on the right dose. Depending on the thyroid hormones level, he may or may not readjust your medication.
Does life expectancy change if you have no thyroid?
If you get thyroid medication, you do not have to worry about a reduced or shortened life expectancy.
However, one study shows that thyroid cancer may reduce the life expectancy of patients older than age 45, especially over age 60. The good news is patients younger than age 45 with thyroid cancer need not worry about the reduced life expectancy.
What happens if you miss or forget to take your thyroid medication?
Can you live without a thyroid without medication? It’s a ‘No’. Medication is a must for no-thyroid to replace the absence of thyroid hormones.
But if you forget or miss a dose, do not panic. Missing a dose is not dangerous. Your doctor may suggest you take the dose later or two doses the next day.
Final Thought with No Thyroid
Can you live without a thyroid? Yes, it is possible to live long, happy, and healthy without a thyroid.
Thyroid hormones are crucial for your body to regulate almost all functions. When you have no thyroid to produce the hormones, thyroid replacement medication takes that position.
Therefore, you must take your thyroid medication regularly.
With treatment and a healthy lifestyle, you can lead a happy and wholesome life without your thyroid.