Can you Stop Taking Thyroid Medication Once You Start?

Thyroid medication (Synthroid) is one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. 

But do all of those people who take Synthroid (or any other type of thyroid medication) have to do it forever?

Not necessarily, and that's something I want to explore in this article. 

Article highlights:

  • People start taking thyroid medication because of blood tests, but these blood tests are not 100% accurate. 
  • Some people who start taking thyroid medication may be able to eventually wean themselves off. 
  • Doctors aren't likely to make this suggestion, though, unless you bring it up. 
  • Some individuals may require thyroid medication for the rest of their lives (but not everyone). 
  • If you decide to try and get off thyroid medication you must do it slowly and controlled.

More...

Why People Start Taking Thyroid Medication

This topic should really be "why doctors prescribe thyroid medication", but the point still remains the same. 

The only real reason to start taking thyroid medication is that your body isn't able to produce enough thyroid medication on its own. 

If this happens, then you will be at a deficit which must be replaced and supplemented with some amount of oral thyroid medication. 

This isn't necessarily a problem, but the problem does start to arise when we talk about how doctors determine if your thyroid is functioning well or not. 

The main way that doctors do this is through a test called the TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone. 

If the TSH is high then you are considered to be hypothyroid and your doctor may start you on thyroid medication. 

If the TSH is normal, then you are considered to be 'euthyroid' and you don't need thyroid medication. 

So, where's the problem?

The problem is that the TSH is a pituitary marker and not necessarily an accurate measurement of thyroid status in your body

There are times where it is considered normal for your TSH to be high or outside of the normal reference range (1). 

In addition, the TSH test only gives you information about what is happening RIGHT NOW. 

It doesn't give you any information about your future thyroid function (2). 

Most of the time it is an accurate measure of thyroid function, but there are times when individuals are placed on thyroid medication inappropriately (3) or times when they may only need thyroid medication short-term. 

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Can you Stop Taking it?

Knowing this information, why isn't it common to hear stories about people getting off of their medication?

The reason has to do with how thyroid medication impacts your brain and your thyroid gland. 

As you take thyroid medication it causes a change in your pituitary and hypothalamus which alters how much thyroid hormone your body can produce naturally. 

This makes it difficult (almost impossible) to see how much thyroid your body could produce on its own if you weren't taking thyroid medication. 

In addition, most doctors are conditioned to believe that once you start taking thyroid medication that you will simply be on it for life. 

This means that stopping thyroid medication in certain patients isn't even on their radar. 

So if you fall into one of the categories that I've listed below, it's not likely that your doctor may start a conversation about reducing or eliminating your dose. 

This leaves it up to you to start that conversion! But only if it's appropriate. 

3 Groups of Thyroid Patients

There are roughly 3 major groups of people to consider before you stop taking your thyroid medication. 

Where you fit into these 3 groups will determine how likely you are to be able to stop. 

Let's dive into these 3 groups so you can help determine where YOU fit in. 

#1. Those who Need Thyroid Medication

It's worth talking about these people first because if you fall into this group then you don't really have an option. 

The truth is that some people will be REQUIRED to take thyroid medication for the rest of their lives (4). 

Not every single person will fit into this category, but it is certainly true that many of you probably do. 

Why is thyroid medication sometimes required?

Because your body REQUIRES thyroid hormone to survive. 

In fact, zero thyroid hormone in your body is not compatible with life and it ultimately leads to coma and death (5). 

People who must take thyroid medication for life include the following:

  • Those who don't have a thyroid (either because it's been removed or because they were born without it)
  • Those who have had their thyroid 100% destroyed with radioactive iodine ablation therapy (sometimes RAI does not destroy the entire thyroid gland so you may not have to take it in all cases)
  • Those people who have end-stage Hashimoto's thyroiditis which has resulted in complete thyroid atrophy (ultimately, untreated Hashimoto's will end up here over the course of decades)
  • Those who don't have a pituitary either because it's been destroyed or damaged from trauma (these people can't produce TSH)

If you fit into any of these categories then it is very unlikely that you will not be able to wean yourself off of your thyroid medication. 

But not everyone is in a position where they HAVE to take it, there are still some groups of people who can potentially either get off of their medication or reduce their dose. 

#2. Those who were Placed on Thyroid Medication Inappropriately

Believe it or not, there are some people who have been placed on thyroid medication incorrectly. 

Most people like to think that they have the best doctor around, but trust me when I say that not everyone can have the best doctor!

Doctors tend to make mistakes from time to time, and it's certainly possible that you were incorrectly placed on your thyroid medication at some point in your life. 

I've personally seen a great many patients who were placed on thyroid medication 20-30 years ago for one reason or another and they have just stayed on their medication since that time. 

And each subsequent doctor that they go to looks at their medication and just assumes that they need to be on it. 

There is some percentage of thyroid patients who take thyroid medication who fit into this category. 

But how does this happen? 

There are several known conditions which can cause a temporary increase in the TSH such that it may mimic the lab results seen in hypothyroidism. 

But just because you have a high TSH on a one-time test doesn't guarantee that you have hypothyroidism. 

There is also the possibility that the test that you used was inaccurate as well. 

It's estimated that up to 5% of all lab tests are not accurate which leaves a fairly high degree of error and difficulty with interpretation (6). 

If you were someone who was placed on thyroid medication because you had one isolated high TSH at some point in your life and you weren't experiencing any of the symptoms of hypothyroidism then you may have been subjected to one of these issues. 

If so, there is a decent chance that you probably don't need to be on thyroid medication long-term. 

People who fit into this category also find that they felt no difference on or off of their thyroid medication. 

#3. Those who only need Thyroid Medication Temporarily

Lastly, there are a group of patients who need thyroid medication but only temporary. 

Several conditions, including thyroiditis, some cases of Hashimoto's, hypothyroidism from obesity, hypothyroidism from iodine deficiency and other nutrient deficiencies, and so on, may be reversible causes of hypothyroidism. 

Take for instance Hashimoto's thyroiditis:

It is true that people with this condition may go on to develop fully fledged hypothyroidism, but a small percentage of patients with this disease experience spontaneous and complete remission (7) (even without therapies!). 

So, it may be that you were placed on thyroid medication because it was necessary at some point, but it doesn't mean that you have to stay on it indefinitely. 

Other conditions which may require the temporary use of thyroid medication include:

These are just a few of the causes of temporary hypothyroidism and there are probably many others. 

If you aren't sure why you were placed on thyroid medication in the first place then you should go to your doctor and try to figure out when and why you were. 

From there you can determine if your issues are potentially reversible or require the use of thyroid medication long-term. 

Even if you don't find yourself in a position where you can get off of your thyroid medication completely, you might find that you can reduce your dose somewhat. 

Take for instance the case of obesity:

I've seen many patients who require much less thyroid hormone once they start losing weight. 

And if you are able to lose 25-50 pounds on your own then there is a very high chance that whatever thyroid medication you required at your heavier weight will not be required in the future. 

They key here, however, is to address the potential cause of your thyroid issues. 

What to do if you Want to Try and Stop Taking your Medication

First things first, you don't want to do this on your own!

Believe it or not, it can actually be dangerous to stop taking your thyroid medication abruptly and I've written about why this is the case in previous articles. 

I've been accused of being a shill for pharmaceutical companies for this recommendation but I still stand by it. 

The truth is that it can be dangerous for some individuals to suddenly stop taking their thyroid medication, especially if they just don't understand why they were started on it to begin with. 

I've seen some people who don't have a thyroid (because it was removed) who want to stop taking their medication. 

This simply cannot happen. 

Because thyroid hormone is required to sustain life, you MUST take thyroid medication if you don't have a thyroid. 

T3 conversion booster results

And the fact that some people don't understand this is a failure of the medical system. 

But, what if you are among those people who can potentially stop taking their medication? What do you do?

The best thing you can do is go to seek help from your current physician and ask if they are willing to help you get off of your medication. 

Make sure that they know that you are aware of the risks (read about them here) and that you understand you may need to be placed back on it. 

If they are on board with the idea then you can proceed in a very slow and cautious manner. 

You should then attempt to slowly decrease your thyroid dose by 25mcg every week (if you are using Synthroid or levothyroxine) until you are completely off of your medication. 

From there you will need to give your body at least 2 months to adjust to life without thyroid medication because it will take at least that long for your HPT (hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (9)) system to 'reset'. 

By slowly reducing your dose, you are allowing your thyroid to slowly start to kick in naturally which allows it to start to produce more thyroid hormone on its own. 

If your thyroid is capable of producing thyroid hormone then you will probably notice a temporary worsening of your symptoms which should resolve over the next 2-3 months. 

If you don't ever start to feel better and your thyroid labs start to get worse, then you may be someone who needs to be on thyroid medication long-term. 

What to Expect if you Stop Taking Your Medication

What should you expect if you stop taking your thyroid medication?

The first thing you should realize is that you are most likely going to feel worse for a short period of time even if your body doesn't need thyroid medication. 

The reason for this is simple:

Once you start taking thyroid medication (of any dose) it causes a negative feedback loop in your brain which REDUCES the amount of thyroid hormone that your thyroid gland produces naturally. 

This is a natural and healthy mechanism which is put in place by your body to prevent too much thyroid hormone from being produced. 

But the problem is your body doesn't necessarily know the difference between thyroid medication that you take by mouth or thyroid hormone that your thyroid gland produces naturally. 

So once it sees any thyroid hormone it alters the signals that it sends to your thyroid gland by lowering the TSH

The more thyroid medication you take by mouth the lower your TSH will get. 

So, as you stop taking your thyroid medication, it's only natural that this TSH will start to increase. 

But you have to be aware of one major important point. 

Once your TSH has been artificially lowered with thyroid medications, it takes time for your brain and pituitary system to get back to full strength. 

In fact, it can take several weeks to months for it to get back to the normal state you were in prior to taking thyroid medication. 

Because of this, there will be a short period of time where your body isn't producing enough thyroid hormone on its own (because it can't) and where you are not taking enough thyroid medication by mouth to supplement this difference. 

During this transition period, it's normal, therefore, for you to feel bad! Because you don't have sufficient thyroid hormone in your body. 

This by itself isn't a reason to think that you HAVE to be on thyroid medication, however. 

But, if your body doesn't get back to normal and if you aren't feeling well after 2-3 months, then you may be someone who has permanent thyroid damage and will be required to take thyroid medication indefinitely. 

Conclusion

Is it possible to stop taking your thyroid medication? The answer is yes, but it's not true for every single thyroid patient. 

Is it possible that you may require long-term thyroid medication treatment? The answer is also yes, but it depends on why you started taking thyroid medication, to begin with. 

Before you decide to try and wean yourself off of your thyroid medication make sure that you find a physician who is willing to work with you. 

Also, make sure that you know exactly why you were taking your medication in the first place!

It's certainly possible (and I've seen it many times) that patients were placed on thyroid medication decades ago for whatever reason and now they may not need to continue it. 

Just be aware, though, that getting off of your medication is a process which may require several months to do it safely. 

Now I want to hear from you:

Have you been able to stop taking your thyroid medication?

Do you know why you were taking it in the first place?

What thyroid condition do you have that necessitates medication?

If you've stopped your medication and you feel poorly, please also share your story below!

References (Click to Expand)

Dr. Westin Childs

Dr. Westin Childs is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. He provides well-researched actionable information about hormone-related disorders and formulates supplements to treat these disorders.He is trained in Internal Medicine, Functional Medicine, and Integrative Medicine. His focus is on managing thyroid disorders, weight loss resistance, and other sex hormone imbalances.You can read more about his own personal journey here.

18 thoughts on “Can you Stop Taking Thyroid Medication Once You Start?”

  1. I have been using medical thyroxin for about 20 years. I wanted to start on natural thyroxin from bovine, and started on that. It did not go so well. So I went to an endocrinologist who checked my thyroid and took a lot of blood tests. I thought I had Hashimoto, but the tests showed no antibodies and my thyroid was normal. He said I could stop using medication and that the body will produce thyroxine itself. After two week without medicine my t3 and t4 was below reference border and the tsh was a little higher, but still inside the reference. But I feel bad. My bowel is not working so well, I feel it’s hard to breathe and I am anxious. How low will my metabolism go before the thyroid starts to work? Then I read your article and figured it is more wise to decrease the medicine slowly. I now went back on 2/3 dose and will go on lowering it. And take blood tests every second week. Is this a good plan?

    • Hi May-Lisbeth,

      It’s a reasonable plan but testing your labs every 2 weeks is not really helpful. I would re-read the last 2 sections of this article for more information on how to proceed with titrating down your dose.

  2. September 2018 dr. Told me I have severe Hashimoto. That’s when I start taking meds.
    Do you think I can stop taking them?

    My dr. Believes that thyroid med should be taken for the rest of your life, but I don’t want to be taking meds the rest of my life!

  3. I was first told I had Hashimoto 10 yrs. ago. I took Armour Thyroid for several years. I started to see a new doctor and she kept me on the Armour until my blood work showed it wasn’t working and put me on Levoth. I didn’t do well on it and went back on Armour but now that I’m on Medicare they wouldn’t pay for the Armour. So I had to go back on Levothyroxine but ended up in the ER with a rapid heart rate and high blood pressure and dizziness. Last year a dear friend of mine died suddenly and it hit me so hard, I couldn’t stop crying. That night I took a Homeopathic remedy for grief and the next morning I was feeling great and couldn’t cry if I wanted to. It also seemed to heal my Thyroid. I had heart palpitations and my doctor said to stop taking my meds. So now a year later I know I need something. I see my Cardiologist next week about the palpations I’m having off an on. I’m praying I don’t need to be on Thyroid meds again.

    • Hi Diane,

      Heart palpitations can be caused by both too much thyroid hormone and by not enough and in some cases, it’s difficult to determine which is which. It may take some trial and error to figure it out, but it’s either because you need to be on meds or because your dose was too high.

  4. How does one determine if they would be considered as having severe Hashimoto’s? I have Hashi’s and TPO antibodies. I have been on 50mcg of Synthroid for over 7 years and it has helped me feel better and less tired and anxious. My ultrasounds do show damage to my thyroid (shrunken and holey like swiss cheese). I think I had undiagnosed Hashi’s for years and also low and then high iodine intakes – double whammy!

    I tried going off meds (wrong – too fast) and got progressively more and more tired and felt physically and mentally worse but I wonder how one could tell if they are ‘past the point’ of ever getting off thyroid meds by the ultrasound results alone (or is there any other indicator that you would say..don’t even bother trying to go off meds other than the route you mentioned in the article)?

    Thanks

    • Hi Jaz,

      By the time you have visible changes to your thyroid via ultrasound that is usually an indication that there is some element of permanent damage which means you will probably require medication from that point forward. You may be able to salvage some thyroid function, but I suspect that some amount of medication will be necessary to function optimally. It’s far better to try and treat the issue when your thyroid is enlarged, inflamed but still functioning as opposed to atrophied.

  5. I started taking Levothyroxine in 1991 due to symptoms of hypothyroidism. I was under extreme stress at the time and smoked. I was 40 years old.

    I was tested by an endocrinologist. Lab tests revealed I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I was told I needed to take thyroid medication for the rest of my life.

    My mother was started on thyroid medication at 17 years old and other women in my family also have autoimmune conditions, including Hashimoto’s.

    I started taking HRT in 1996 at age 45 due to severe pre-menopausal symptoms. Horrible hot flashes and insomnia.
    In 1998-1999, still taking Levothyroxine along with HRT, all my original symptoms of hypothroidism returned. My TSH level was at the very high end of the normal range. I was told by the endocrinologist that no medication increase was warranted. This continued for several more years of me feeling horrible.

    In 2002 I found a doctor who prescribed Armour thyroid since I read it might work better for me. It sure did. With a couple weeks I was feeling much better. I also quit smoking in 2001.

    Around 2003-2004 I switched to a different type of HRT. I now realize this was a big mistake. Hormone pellets were inserted into by buttock every few months.

    Gradually I required higher doses of Armour. I started at 120 mg and topped out at 180 mg. I recently learned taking HRT blocks the thyroid receptors so more thyroid medication is needed. I finally stopped taking HRT in 2012 and my Armour dose was gradually lowered back to 120 mg according to my lab results.

    In July 2014 I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. My oncologist told me it was probably due to my long term use of HRT and the weight gain that started after stopping HRT. Even though I was stage 1 the cancer was a very aggressive form. Estrogen driven and HER+.

    I was in treatment for a year. Surgery (lumpectomy), chemo, radiation, and targeted therapy with Herceptin. I could not tolerate the aromatase inhibitors they wanted me to take for ten years after treatment. I tried taking three different medications over an 8-9 month period. I had the most horrible side effects, dementia and extreme joint pain! I had trouble moving around. When I stopped taking the medication the side effects gradually went away.

    Since the fall of 2015 I have been healing from the breast cancer treatments. I started by cleaning up my diet, taking supplements, and making better lifestyle choices.

    I recently asked for comphrensive thyroid panel testing. I no longer have Hashimoto’s. Now almost five years later I feel pretty good. I would love to get off thyroid medication. My current dose is down to 75mg of Armour.

    I was told many times it was not possible to stop taking medication since my thyroid gland was shriveled up and gone. No imaging test was ever done to verify it though so I do not know how they say this is true?

    About 6 months ago I started taking Metformin for pre-diabetes. So far it has not lowered my HA1c. The doctor keeps increasing the dose. I am now 68 years old so it has been 28 years since my original diagnosis of Hashimoto’s.

    This has been a very long story I know but I would love to hear your comments Dr. Child’s!

    • Hi Joyce,

      It would be a good idea to check the status of your thyroid gland with a thyroid ultrasound. Thyroid imaging with ultrasound will give you some information but it’s not 100% accurate in testing for thyroid function (obviously), so you will probably need further tests beyond that.

  6. Where would you consider someone who has half of a thyroid? I had half removed 4 years ago due to a long standing undx intrathyroidal parathyroid adenoma of 15+ years. I had a rough couple of years post op rebalancing both my thyroid and minerals (low calcium, magnesium and vit D). I was never out of range in anything though my calcium, PTH and FT4 were bottom of range. Supplements (calcium, d, k2, mag, zinc, b vitamins, etc) and thyroid medicine went a long way. I have a good endo who also practices functional medicine. I take a combo of levo and NDT to support pregnancies and nursing over the last few years. But I have always been suspicious that with the proper nutritional balancing the other half of my thyroid could be up to the task and maybe one day go off all meds. I’m hoping to start exploring that once I’m past the childbirth and nursing stage of life.

    • Hi Erin,

      It’s possible for some people with a half a thyroid to never use thyroid medication as thyroid tissue has been shown to hypertrophy and take over for some non-functioning gland. It’s not always true, however, and some people without a thyroid certainly benefit from the use of added medication.

  7. Hi there,
    Can I try to lower my thyroid med even if I have thyroid nodules? or can I get rid of the med if I have nodules? Does that mean my thyroid got damaged and can’t be fixed anymore?

    Dr doesn’t help in here they say just keep taking this for a long time.

    Thanks for this article.

    Sue

    • Hi Sue,

      Typically, thyroid nodules do not have any impact on your thyroid gland function so it would probably depend on how many nodules you have, how big they are, and if they are functioning vs non-functioning.

  8. Hi Dr. Childs,

    I asked my doctor if I could try going of Armour, and she said, “Sure, go ahead!” I weaned off per your recommendations above. I have been off all thyroid for about three weeks and have been feeling pretty good. Last week, my doctor tested my TSH (I tried to get her to run a full panel, but she said no). It went from .01 in March to 58.88. She said I would need to get back on medication immediately. I would love to hear your opinion. Thanks,
    Kala.

  9. I have a goiter found in high school and back then my doctor told me to eat iodized salt.. but a year later my goiter enlarge and I went to Endocrinologist and she put me on Synthroid and I have been taking it for 38 years… I was over 100MCG and now I take 75MCG just from take Whole-Food Multivitamin plus (Dr. Mercola). Dr. do my lab test and told me I will be on Synthroid for the rest of my life without any other test! Help.

    • Hi Jeanne,

      This article discusses the potential categories that patients fall into and how these categories impact their ability to get off of thyroid medication. You will need to determine where you fit in and then you can determine if you are able to stop thyroid medication. If you are able to treat your goiter and to reduce the size of your thyroid gland then you might be able to wean off of your medication.

  10. Diagnosed hypo post partum 27 yrs ago. Was also on severely restricted no sodium diet for Inner ear disorder. After reading this information I’m wondering if I would be a good candidate for stopping my NDT. It could have been lack of iodine and post partum levels that caused my thyroid levels to be high. Currently my frees are not optimum and my tsh runs very low but myvRT3 is 15. I’ve never taken more than 1 and 1/4 grain. Perhaps medication wasn’t right for me to begin with?

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