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We understand how tricky managing thyroid conditions can be. It requires a delicate balancing act of finding the correct dose of thyroid medication without going overboard. Taking too much thyroid medication or taking it when you don’t need it can lead to unwanted side effects.
So, what happens when you take thyroid medication when you don’t need it? Keep reading to find out.
First, your thyroid helps regulate your metabolism and energy levels. Thyroid disorders occur when your thyroid hormone levels fall outside the desired range. Thyroid disorders fit into two main categories:
- Hyperthyroidism: a condition where your thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone
- Hypothyroidism: a condition where your thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone
Treatments differ depending on the thyroid disorder. For those with hyperthyroidism, treatments focus on decreasing the thyroid hormone levels. So, thyroid medication isn’t needed initially. Reducing thyroid hormone levels can be done by
- Anti-thyroid medications such as methimazole
- Radioactive iodine treatments
- Thyroid surgery
Frequently, these treatments for hyperthyroidism can lead to an underactive thyroid, resulting in hypothyroidism.
People with hypothyroidism need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication. These medications replace the hormone the thyroid gland can no longer produce. By doing so, body processes can resume normal function.
A thyroid blood test is the best way to assess your thyroid function. Many labs only look at thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Paloma’s thyroid experts believe one should also test other thyroid levels, including free triiodothyronine (free T3) and free thyroxine (free T4), as well as thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies.
Keep in mind that TPO antibodies don’t measure your thyroid function. They identify, if positive, the presence of a thyroid autoimmune disorder like Hashimoto’s.
The decision to prescribe thyroid medication is not always straightforward. Healthcare providers often rely on your thyroid function test results to help decide if you need medication. But your provider will also want to know about your symptoms, lifestyle, and medical history. All these factors can help determine if you may benefit from thyroid medication.
If you have an overt thyroid disorder, this means you have specific changes in thyroid function tests. Often, individuals will also have symptoms of a thyroid disorder. For instance, overt hypothyroidism can result in a high TSH level with low free T4. Those with overt hypothyroidism need thyroid medication. These medications bring thyroid hormone levels up to within a normal range.
Sometimes, people have borderline thyroid function abnormalities with mild or no symptoms. In this case, your provider may diagnose you with subclinical hypothyroidism. Generally, those with subclinical hypothyroidism have a slight elevation in TSH but normal thyroid hormone levels.
Not everyone with subclinical hypothyroidism needs treatment with thyroid medication. However, individuals experiencing uncomfortable symptoms may wish to try a thyroid medication. The decision to start a thyroid medication or not is one you and your provider will make together.
Taking too much thyroid medication can push your thyroid into overdrive, causing a state of hyperthyroidism. Because of this, your body processes speed up, causing hyperthyroid symptoms such as:
- Increased Heart Rate and Palpitations: One of the most common signs of excessive thyroid hormone replacement medication is an increased heart rate and palpitations. When the body has excess thyroid hormones, it can lead to a faster heartbeat and irregular heart palpitations. If you notice your heart racing even when you are at rest or experience fluttering sensations in your chest, it may be a sign of too much medication.
- Increased Sweating and Heat Intolerance: Too much thyroid hormone replacement medication can also cause excessive sweating and an increased sensitivity to heat. You may be sweating profusely even in mild temperatures or constantly feeling overheated. This is because an excess of thyroid hormones can raise the body’s metabolic rate, leading to increased heat release.
- Weight Loss: Unexpected weight loss or difficulty maintaining weight can be another sign of taking excessive thyroid hormone replacement medication. When the body has too much thyroid hormone, it speeds up the metabolism, causing increased calorie burn. This can result in unintended weight loss, even if you maintain a regular diet.
- Nervousness, Anxiety, and Irritability: Excessive amounts of thyroid hormones can also affect your mood and mental well-being. If you find yourself feeling overly anxious, irritable, or experiencing regular mood swings, it could be a sign that your medication dosage is too high. These mood changes can harm your overall quality of life if left unaddressed.
- Sleep Disturbances and Insomnia: Too much thyroid hormone replacement medication can disrupt sleep patterns. You may find it difficult to fall asleep, wake up frequently during the night, or experience restless sleep. Trouble sleeping can further contribute to feelings of fatigue and exhaustion during the day.
- Muscle Weakness and Tremors: Excess thyroid hormones can affect muscle function, leading to weakness and tremors. You may notice that your muscles feel weaker than usual or experience involuntary trembling or shaking of your hands, legs, or other body parts.
- Digestive Issues: Digestive problems, such as diarrhea, nausea, and increased frequency of bowel movements, can also indicate an overdose of thyroid hormone replacement medication. These symptoms occur due to the increased metabolic activity caused by excessive thyroid hormones.
Excessive thyroid hormone can result in a life-threatening medical condition called thyroid storm. Although rare, thyroid storm is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Those in thyroid storm can present with severe symptoms, including:
- High Fever: One of the hallmark symptoms of thyroid storm is an extremely high fever, often reaching 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) or higher. This fever is usually accompanied by profuse sweating.
- Rapid Heart Rate: Thyroid storm can cause a fast and irregular heartbeat, known as tachycardia. You may feel your heart pounding or fluttering in your chest.
- Severe Agitation or Anxiety: Individuals experiencing a thyroid storm may feel extremely restless, anxious, or agitated. They may have difficulty staying calm or sitting still.
- Excessive Sweating: Excessive sweating, even in normal temperatures, can be a symptom of thyroid storm. This is due to the increased metabolic rate caused by elevated levels of thyroid hormones.
- Tremors or Shaking: Uncontrollable tremors or shaking of the hands, fingers, or other parts of the body can be a symptom of thyroid storm. These tremors may be mild or severe.
- Confusion or Delirium: Thyroid storm can affect brain function, leading to confusion, delirium, or even psychosis. Individuals may have difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or staying oriented.
- Nausea and Vomiting: Some individuals with thyroid storm may experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. This can be accompanied by a decreased appetite and weight loss.
- Chest Pain or Shortness of Breath: Thyroid storm can strain the heart and lungs, leading to chest pain or shortness of breath. This can be a serious symptom and requires immediate medical attention.
High thyroid hormone levels can also negatively impact other body systems.
Increased thyroid hormone levels can put a strain on your heart. This strain may result in high blood pressure and strokes. Furthermore, individuals are at a greater risk for other heart problems, such as heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and palpitations.
We all know how essential calcium is for bone health. Too much thyroid medication may interfere with how much calcium the bones absorb.
A lack of calcium in your bones puts you at risk for osteoporosis (weak bones) or fractures. You may have heard osteoporosis referred to as a “silent” disease. Why is this? Often, osteoporosis doesn’t cause any symptoms. And most don’t know they have osteoporosis until they break a bone.
Central nervous system
Your thyroid helps regulate different processes the central nervous system (CNS) controls. This includes your sleep patterns. So, too much thyroid medication can make it harder to get a good night’s rest.
Furthermore, taking a higher thyroid medication dose than needed can lead to other changes in your CNS. This can result in mood swings, irritability, and even memory issues.
Generally, people with primary hypothyroidism usually need lifelong thyroid medication. Primary hypothyroidism is when the thyroid no longer makes thyroid hormone. However, individuals with subclinical hypothyroidism may be able to do a trial to stop taking thyroid medication.
You shouldn’t stop taking your thyroid medication without consulting your medical provider first. Going “cold turkey” can have negative consequences. Stopping medication abruptly can lead to a worsening of symptoms and potential health complications. It is essential to work closely with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate treatment plan and make any necessary adjustments to medication dosages.
If your provider believes it is safe for you to trail off your medication, they will likely recommend a gradual taper of your dose. This will allow your body to adjust to not having extra thyroid hormone. Be sure to tell your provider any symptoms you experience while tapering your dose.
So, if you wish to quit taking your medication or think you are taking too much, make a list of your symptoms and reasons for stopping your medication. Then, share your concerns with your thyroid doctor.
Remember, thyroid medication is meant to restore balance, not send your body into overdrive. If you suspect you’re taking too much or are having symptoms of overmedication, don’t play the guessing game – reach out to your thyroid provider.
They will likely check your thyroid function before adjusting your dose. You can conveniently do this from home using Paloma’s at-home testing kit. Our test measures TSH, fT4, and fT3 - the three thyroid biomarkers needed for dose adjustment.
Once your results are in, your thyroid provider can adjust your dosage to ensure you’re on the right track to optimal thyroid health. Believe us when we say - your body will thank you for it!