Dear Aimee, How can I get off my thyroid medication? I feel like it’s making me feel worse and not helping at all. Is it safe to stop taking them, or even possible?
I completely understand your interest in wanting to get off your thyroid medication! After all, it’s one more thing to remember, and sometimes it’s a real pain to get the dosage just right.
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If you’re like one of the 121 million Americans taking thyroid hormone replacement, you might be feeling a little fed up. Maybe your meds aren’t working like you think they should be, and you don’t feel great. Or maybe you’re worried that they’re somehow harming you.
Before you quit that prescription (which isn’t a good idea to do on your own anyway – the thyroid is way more complex than just taking a few pills), let’s explore some of the scenarios where you might be able to get off your thyroid meds, as well as some reasons when you’ll probably never be able to quit but might be able to find a better combination or solution.
First, let’s go over the different types of thyroid medication available right now.
The Different Types of Thyroid Meds
Synthroid, also known as levothyroxine, is the most prescribed medication in the country – over blood pressure medications and everything else. Yet for people with subclinical hypothyroidism or other low levels of thyroid problems, it doesn’t really seem to do much good. So, why is it used so often?
The answer is that doctors know how to regulate the dosage of levothyroxine better, and so it remains the standard of care. But there are different types of thyroid medications and some of them help people feel dramatically better.
Natural desiccated thyroid is derived from porcine glandulars – another way of saying that it’s hormones extracted from pigs – and even though that might seem strange, several prescription medications are made from porcine sources, including blood thinners.
When it comes to thyroid meds, there are only two options: glandulars, which are animal-based, or synthetic, which is what Synthroid falls under. Every patient is unique, and some respond to one category better than the other, while others might require a combination of both to keep levels steady and regulated.
How to Tell if Your Thyroid Med is Working
Finding the right balance of thyroid medication can be a huge headache, and it can be difficult to have your doctors change it when you aren’t feeling your best. If your most recent lab results look “normal” on paper, your doctor won’t be inclined to tweak your medication dosage – even if you’re feeling downright terrible. Thankfully, some doctors are starting to consider patient symptoms and feelings as indicators that are just as important as lab levels, but it takes a good deal of advocacy on your part to make it clear to your doctor that you don’t feel well and want a change.
If your thyroid medication is working, you’ll know it because you probably won’t be thinking about it. On the other hand, maybe it’s working so well that you think you’re totally fine now and don’t need it anymore. If that’s the case, proceed with caution. It takes a long time to get the thyroid stabilized, so if you’ve been on a good dose for a while and think it’s time to quit, work with your doctor to do a very slow taper to make sure it doesn’t tank your health and energy levels.
How to Tell When Your Thyroid Meds Aren’t Working
There’s a laundry list of symptoms you can experience if your meds aren’t working well. You can deal with anything from feeling tired, poor sleep, weight gain, coldness, numbness and tingling, hair loss, dry skin – the list goes on, and on it goes.
If you’re feeling out of whack and your lab results are showing up as normal, it’s time to speak with your doctor about exploring different options.
When You Can Stop Your Meds
There are only some instances when you might be able to get off your meds. If you suffered from a bout of non-autoimmune hypothyroidism that stemmed from situational circumstances – like a period of extreme stress, anemia, or postpartum – you might be able to go off your meds when these situations have been fully resolved.
First, however, you absolutely need to check in with your doctor before stopping. Don’t go rogue on this, however tempting it might be.
Why You Might Need Thyroid Hormone Replacement Forever
If you’ve had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and your thyroid gland has been damaged by autoimmune attacks, there’s a good chance you’re going to need some level of thyroid hormone help for the rest of your life. However, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing! When you’re on the right prescription and the right dose, thyroid hormone meds don’t come with unpleasant side effects or cause major issues.
I have been taking thyroid medication for 12 years now, and I have no intention of stopping. Now that I’ve been on it for so long, my doctor and I have found the right medication and the right dose range, and while it may need to be tweaked every now and then, it’s minor and I don’t experience any symptoms. I also don’t have any of those pesky hypothyroid symptoms, either.
Hashimoto’s can be rough and optimizing your medication is a necessary part of the path to wellness. While the internet is full of people claiming they got off their meds with no issues, or barely qualified practitioners or coaches claiming they can help you get off your meds, make sure that you consider the source. Medical doctors may not always have the right instinct on how to tweak your meds initially, but you can advocate for yourself and work with them to find the proper balance. Practitioners who have completed year-long (or less) programs, are hardly the best to be trusted for your major health advice.
So, dear reader, in summary, I would ask why it is that you want to get off your meds. If you don’t have a clinically resolved case of hypothyroidism, I’d suggest working closely with a doctor you trust to get the dose and prescription just right. If you, like many women I’ve spoken to, want to quit because you think they’re making you feel terrible, there are answers out there. Don’t give up until you feel healthy and energetic. It is possible!
Aimee McNew, Certified Nutritionist, MNT
(Read This Next: Ask Aimee: Is It Safe to Take Iodine For Thyroid Disease?)