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Can You Live Without A Thyroid Gland?

Without your thyroid gland, your body can't make thyroid hormones. Learn what this means for your health.
Can You Live Without A Thyroid Gland?
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The thyroid gland is essential. Your body relies on the hormones the thyroid produces to regulate your metabolism, growth, and development, among many other processes.

Sometimes, things go awry, and your thyroid can no longer produce enough thyroid hormone to meet your body’s needs. Without those necessary hormones, you can develop hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels). If left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to serious, long-term complications.

So, you may wonder if you can live without a thyroid gland or with an underactive gland. The short answer is yes. But there is a caveat: you will need lifelong treatment with thyroid medication.

Reasons you wouldn’t have a functioning thyroid

Several factors may lead to the absence or underactivity of the thyroid. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.


A common reason for not having a thyroid is a surgical procedure called a thyroidectomy. This surgery involves removing all or part of your thyroid. The reasons for a thyroidectomy include:

  • As a treatment for thyroid cancer
  • To remove thyroid nodules, cysts, or non-cancerous thyroid tumors
  • To manage an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • To treat goiter (thyroid enlargement) that interferes with breathing or swallowing

Following a thyroidectomy, most people become hypothyroid because the body can no longer make enough thyroid hormones on its own. Because of this, most people need lifelong treatment with thyroid medication after a thyroidectomy.

Congenital hypothyroidism

Congenital hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland doesn’t develop or function correctly from birth. In most cases (80 to 85%) of congenital hypothyroidism, individuals have either an underdeveloped thyroid, no thyroid gland at all, or one that’s abnormally located.

If left untreated, congenital hypothyroidism can lead to long-term intellectual and physical disabilities. Many countries, including the United States, test newborns for this form of hypothyroidism. Starting thyroid medication within the first weeks of life improves a newborn’s chance for normal development.

Under-functioning thyroid

In some instances, individuals may physically have a thyroid gland, but it is underperforming. This situation can give rise to symptoms of hypothyroidism despite the presence of the gland. Here are three reasons why a thyroid gland may underperform

Radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment

Radioactive iodine (RAI) is commonly used to manage hyperthyroidism or Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is the opposite of hypothyroidism as it results from too much thyroid hormone. And too much thyroid hormones speed up the body’s processes.

In some cases, RAI overtreats the thyroid gland, leading to an underactive state. In these cases, people go from hyperthyroidism to hypothyroidism. Once you become hypothyroid, you need thyroid hormone replacement medication.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the primary cause of primary hypothyroidism. It is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system attacks your thyroid. This attack on the thyroid causes chronic inflammation. In turn, the thyroid’s ability to make thyroid hormones lessens.

While the thyroid may still produce some thyroid hormone, it is generally insufficient to meet your body’s demands. Because of this, thyroid medication is often needed.


Some medications prescribed to manage other health conditions can interfere with thyroid hormone production. Examples include lithium, interferon-alpha, and amiodarone.

Other medications can affect how well thyroid medications work in the body. Examples of these medications include: 

  • Over-the-counter supplements like iron and calcium
  • Proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec or Protonix
  • Synthetic estrogens and androgens

Can you live without a thyroid?

You absolutely can live a long and fulfilling life without a thyroid or an underperforming one. In fact, roughly 30 million adults in the United States do. What you can’t live without is thyroid hormone.

Living without thyroid hormones can significantly affect your health and well-being. The symptoms of hypothyroidism can be debilitating and affect various aspects of daily life. These symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, depression, memory problems, and infertility. Additionally, individuals with untreated hypothyroidism may be at risk for developing cardiovascular diseases, high cholesterol levels, and other complications.

The good news is that even though the thyroid gland is vital for overall health, it is possible to live without it. When the thyroid gland is either removed surgically or unable to produce enough hormone, patients can manage their condition by taking thyroid hormone replacement medication. This medication, usually in the form of a daily pill, restores the necessary hormone levels in the body and helps alleviate the symptoms of hypothyroidism. With proper medication and regular follow-ups with a healthcare provider, individuals can lead relatively normal lives without their thyroid gland.

Does life expectancy change if you lose your thyroid?

In general, individuals living without a thyroid or an underactive one can maintain a normal life expectancy with appropriate treatment. The absence of a thyroid itself doesn’t inherently lead to a reduced lifespan.

However, a deficiency in thyroid hormones can increase the risk of other health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. These health conditions may impact life expectancy.

The underlying reason for the thyroid loss can also affect life expectancy. For instance, an individual who underwent a thyroidectomy for differentiated thyroid cancer (DTC) might have a decrease in life expectancy.  

What does living look like without a thyroid?

Effective management of hypothyroidism allows you to live your life. Below are three components of an effective plan for managing hypothyroidism.

Taking thyroid medication

As mentioned, the absence or underactivity of the thyroid makes taking thyroid medication essential. These medications replace the amount of thyroid hormone your body no longer makes.

The thyroid gland releases triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The main difference between these two hormones is that T4 is inactive. This means that cells in your body need to convert T4 to T3, the active form, for your body to benefit from the hormone. Thyroid medications mimic the actions of one or both of these hormones.

Levothyroxine is commonly prescribed, and it’s a synthetic version of the T4 hormone. As your body would do with naturally produced T4, it converts synthetic T4 to T3.

Some individuals may find they still have hypothyroid symptoms while taking levothyroxine. Because of this, some need to take a T3- medication in addition to T4. Cytomel (liothyronine) is the only T3 medication on the market.

There is a combination medication called natural desiccated thyroid. (Common brand names are Armour Thyroid and NP Thyroid). It is made from an animal’s thyroid gland and has natural forms of both T3 and T4. 

Regardless of what thyroid medication you take, there are ways to optimize its effectiveness.

  • Make sure to take your medication at the same time every day.
  • Follow special considerations for taking your thyroid medication. Some must be taken on an empty stomach or spaced apart from other supplements or medications.

If you have questions about how to take your thyroid medication or possible interactions with medications or supplements you take, talk with your pharmacist or provider.

Regular follow-up care

Regular monitoring of your thyroid function with blood tests is essential. You may require more frequent testing when first starting thyroid medication. Once on a stable dose, you may only need your thyroid function tested once or twice a year.

Your healthcare provider may need to adjust your medication dosage if you experience symptoms or if you have significant life changes, such as pregnancy.

Lifestyle changes

While medication is necessary if you have an underactive thyroid, lifestyle modifications can further improve symptom management. Your healthcare provider will likely recommend incorporating the following into your routine:

  • Getting regular physical activity and exercise
  • Analyzing your diet and adding foods that can benefit your thyroid
  • Adopting stress management strategies
  • Improving your sleep

And don’t forget to schedule and see your primary care provider for routine health screenings!

What happens if I don’t take thyroid medication?

While it is possible to survive without thyroid hormones, living without them can lead to symptoms that may affect your well-being. The most serious consequence of prolonged thyroid hormone deficiency is myxedema coma or, in extreme cases, death.

Although rare, myxedema coma is a life-threatening medical condition resulting from untreated, long-standing hypothyroidism. Before reaching this critical stage, you may notice other indicators of thyroid dysfunction. Symptoms that may signal an underactive thyroid include

A note from Paloma Health

Many individuals live for years without realizing they have an underactive thyroid. Eventually, symptoms emerge, prompting them to see their healthcare provider.

So, if you’re experiencing symptoms suggesting suboptimal thyroid function, it may be time to see your provider. After taking a thorough medical history, your provider may decide to test your thyroid function. Often, this involves getting blood drawn at your local lab. However, you can do this from the comfort of your home with Paloma’s at-home testing kit.

Paloma’s testing kit measures your thyroid levels, including TSH, free T4, free T3, and thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies. One of the best parts is that you can conveniently pick the best time to do it at home with a painless finger prick blood sample!

If your lab work shows a thyroid disorder, work closely with your healthcare provider to develop a management plan. Regular check-ups, thyroid medication, and positive lifestyle choices can contribute to a healthier life for those with a thyroid disorder.

In conclusion, while living without a thyroid gland is possible, it is not without its challenges. The thyroid gland’s normal function is essential for maintaining overall health and quality of life. However, with proper management and medication, individuals with hypothyroidism can lead fulfilling lives. If you suspect you have thyroid issues or are experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Remember, a healthy thyroid means a healthier you!


Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid) - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed December 26, 2023.

Thyroid gland removal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed December 26, 2023.

Congenital hypothyroidism: MedlinePlus Genetics. Accessed December 26, 2023.

Chaker L, Bianco AC, Jonklaas J, Peeters RP. Hypothyroidism. Lancet. 2017;390(10101):1550-1562. doi:

Wyne KL, Nair L, Schneiderman CP, et al. Hypothyroidism Prevalence in the United States: A Retrospective Study Combining National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and Claims Data, 2009–2019. J Endocr Soc. 2022;7(1). doi:

Hershman J. Life Expectancy is Not Reduced in Patients with Differentiated Thyroid Cancer Who Are Younger Than 45. Clin Thyroidol. 2013;25:62–63.

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Emilie White, PharmD

Clinical Pharmacist and Medical Blogger

Emilie White, PharmD is a clinical pharmacist with over a decade of providing direct patient care to those hospitalized. She received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. After graduation, Emilie completed a postgraduate pharmacy residency at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center in Virginia. Her background includes caring for critical care, internal medicine, and surgical patients.

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