Can You Live Without a Thyroid? What to Expect After Surgery or RAI
Your thyroid gland produces some of the most important hormones in your entire body.
But what happens if you have your thyroid removed? Or destroyed?
Are you able to survive?
The answer is yes and it has to do with the fact that thyroid medication contains the same hormones that your body produces naturally.
The only problem is that once your thyroid is removed or destroyed, you will be required to take thyroid medication for the rest of your life.
In addition, it can be difficult to optimize your medication to try and mimic what your thyroid gland would produce naturally.
In this article, we are going to discuss the importance of thyroid hormone, what happens if you have your thyroid removed (or destroyed), the side effects you may experience, and how to optimize your medication afterward.
Let's jump in:
Thyroid Hormone is Necessary for Life
Let's review some of the basics:
These are the most active thyroid hormones in your body.
Once they are released from your thyroid gland, which is located in your neck, they circulate through your entire body and interact with all of your cells.
Your thyroid gland is the only place that these thyroid hormones can be created.
So, you can imagine if that gland is damaged or removed the consequence will be an abrupt reduction in circulating thyroid hormone.
This is a major problem because thyroid hormone helps regulate several important functions in your body.
If you don't have any thyroid hormone then this regulation stops and serious problems tend to occur.
The most serious consequence from not having thyroid hormone in your body is coma or death (5).
Long before this happens, though, you still start to experience other side effects which will tell you that your thyroid isn't functioning properly.
Now that you understand why the thyroid is so important we can start to talk about the reasons why you may want to have it removed.
Download my Free Resources:
Foods to Avoid if you have Thyroid Problems:
I've found that these 10 foods cause the most problems for thyroid patients. Learn which foods you should absolutely be avoiding if you have thyroid disease of any type.
The Complete List of Thyroid Lab Tests:
This list includes optimal ranges, normal ranges, and the complete list of tests you need to diagnose thyroid hypothyroidism correctly!
Download more free resources on this page.
Reasons for Not Having a Thyroid or for Having it Removed
Whenever possible, the best course of action is to try and keep your thyroid gland in your body!
Unlike other organs, such as your appendix, your thyroid serves a VERY important function in your body.
It's definitely possible to live without a thyroid gland, but not everyone who has their thyroid removed will experience a return to 'normal' life afterward.
The reason for this has to do with thyroid medication (which we will discuss below).
Having said all of this, it's not always possible to keep your thyroid gland.
The primary reason to have it removed is that you may have a medical condition which creates an environment in which keeping your thyroid gland inside of your body is less safe than having it removed.
Some of the reasons you may have your thyroid removed include:
- Thyroid cancer - This is one of the most common reasons to have your thyroid removed. Thyroid cancer poses an immediate threat to your entire body if the gland is left in your neck. The treatment for most thyroid cancers is to have your entire thyroid gland removed.
- Hyperthyroidism (Graves' disease) - Another common reason to have your thyroid removed is if you suffer from hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is the release of too much thyroid hormone which can damage other tissues and cells in your body. Hyperthyroidism can be treated with other medications but the removal of your thyroid gland is a permanent treatment.
- Very large thyroid nodules or thyroid cysts - Rarely, but it does happen, a thyroid nodule or cyst can become so large that it starts to push against your trachea (windpipe) or other structures in your neck. If you have a nodule or cyst that gets this big then you may need to have your thyroid gland removed to also take out the nodule/cyst.
- You may be born without a thyroid (6) - It is also possible that you can be born without a thyroid gland. This doesn't happen very often but it definitely does occur. This is usually caught with ultrasound testing while the baby is in the fetus and it is generally known after birth. The treatment for being born without a thyroid is the same as if your thyroid were removed later in life.
Thyroid Medication After Thyroid Surgery & Iodine Ablation
If you don't have a thyroid then you must take thyroid medication.
It may surprise you to know that there are many different types of thyroid medications available.
Each thyroid medication differs in the active ingredients and inactive ingredients it contains.
These small changes can cause a big impact on your body.
T4 thyroid hormone is the most commonly prescribed thyroid hormone but it is not the most powerful.
T3, on the other hand, is the most powerful thyroid hormone prescription available but not many people are on this medication.
Beyond this, thyroid medications contain different inactive ingredients and some medications even include lactose.
All of these can and should be taken into account when you consider which thyroid medication is ideal for your body.
Thyroid Medications Available
Below you will find a list of thyroid medications available in the United States (different versions of these medications are available in different countries):
These medications contain either T4 thyroid hormone alone, T3 thyroid hormone alone, or a combination of both T4 and T3.
This may seem confusing if you have thyroid disease but it is incredibly important!
If you are currently taking thyroid medication and not feeling well then simply switching your medication may impact your symptoms in a positive way.
Optimizing your Medication Dose
If you don't have a thyroid it is very important that you optimize your dose.
Because your body cannot produce thyroid hormone on its own you will be reliant upon medication to get the necessary thyroid hormone to your cells.
Your thyroid gland does an amazing job at producing the exact amount of thyroid hormone that you need at any given time.
Unfortunately, taking thyroid medication by mouth can be a difficult way to try and mimic the way that your body does this naturally.
This can lead to symptoms which may indicate you are taking too much medication or too little.
You can use your symptoms and your lab tests to help guide you to determine what is optimal for your body.
It may take some trial and error but you will eventually find what works for you with the help of your Doctor.
I've created some tips to help you find the optimal dose required that you can look at here (this is helpful if you are taking thyroid medication already but not feeling well).
Side Effects you May Experience after Thyroid Removal
There are two main reasons you may experience side effects after thyroid removal.
The first has to do with the fact that your body is no longer producing thyroid hormone on its own and the other has to do with the operation itself.
Side effects related to your thyroid medication/dose:
- Weight gain
- Brain fog
- Cold body temperature
If you are not started on the right dose of thyroid medication after your operation then you may experience any of these side effects listed above.
The presence of these side effects may indicate that you need a higher dose than what you are currently taking.
Potential complications of thyroid surgery include:
- Hoarse voice (7)
- Bleeding at your surgical site
- Infection at your surgical site
- Hypocalcemia (8) (low calcium)
These side effects may occur directly from the surgery itself and don't necessarily have anything to do with taking your thyroid medication.
These side effects are rare but they do happen and your body will monitor you closely for any of them.
Other Options to Enhance your Thyroid
Are there any other things you can do to boost thyroid function after your thyroid has been removed?
The answer is maybe.
Even though you don't have a thyroid gland, your body still needs certain nutrients and vitamins to help your thyroid function.
Nutrients such as iodine are still important, even if you don't have a thyroid gland!
While the majority of iodine is stored in your thyroid gland, other cells in your body also use iodine.
In addition, nutrients such as Selenium and Zinc can also help aid in T4 to T3 conversion in your body.
This is true even if you can't produce thyroid hormone on your own and even if you are taking thyroid medication by mouth.
Your goal when taking supplements should be to ensure that you have an adequate amount of these nutrients so your thyroid can function as close to 100% as possible.
Even small deficiencies in these nutrients may further reduce your thyroid function and lead to symptoms.
My recommendation is to find a high-quality thyroid boosting supplement which contains all of the critical nutrients required for thyroid conversion and cellular activation like this one.
You can also use others, but ensure that they have the right ingredients!
No Thyroid Should be Considered as a Variant of Hypothyroidism
This is a small but important point!
If you don't have a thyroid then all of the information you read online or hear about hypothyroidism will generally still apply to you!
I get questions on a daily basis asking if my articles apply to them if they don't have a thyroid and the answer is almost always yes or at least 95% of the information is still relevant to you.
Consider this example:
If you don't have a thyroid then you MUST take thyroid medication.
Most patients (the vast majority) also take thyroid medication.
If you have a thyroid gland in your body, and you are taking thyroid medication, then your body will naturally suppress the function of your thyroid gland.
So, the two conditions are still very similar.
The main difference is that those who do have a thyroid gland still produce SOME amount of thyroid hormone so they do have an advantage over people without a thyroid gland.
Even important factors such as T4 to T3 conversion still apply to those without a thyroid.
Whether you make your own thyroid hormone or if you get it from medication, your body still must convert T4 into T3 and if you don't do this then you may experience certain symptoms.
It is absolutely possible to live without a thyroid gland but if you fall into this category then you MUST take thyroid medication.
Thyroid medication helps stimulate important functions in your body and you can consider thyroid hormone as a necessary hormone for life.
There are many types of thyroid medications that contain varying amounts of T4 and T3 and you can decide which variation and dose work well for your body through trial and error and with lab testing.
Now I want to hear from you:
Do you have a thyroid gland?
Are you considering having yours removed?
Are you experiencing any negative symptoms after having your thyroid removed?
If so, leave your questions or comments below!
References (Click to Expand)