What Happens if My Thyroid Condition is Left Untreated?

Learn why treating the thyroid well is essential to your health
What Happens if My Thyroid Condition is Left Untreated?

Numerous American’s are affected by thyroid conditions, some are aware of their disorder while others are not. Thyroid disorders can be difficult to diagnose and tricky to treat, leaving many individuals experiencing symptoms with no treatment for sometimes lengthy periods. 


The Symptoms of Thyroid Conditions


Hyperthyroidism is when the body produces too much thyroid hormone and is characterized by symptoms such as increased appetite, heart palpitations, and weight loss. Hyperthyroidism is most commonly caused by an autoimmune disease, though it can be a result of too much thyroid hormone replacement medication. Hyperthyroidism can be treated with medication, thyroid blockers, or by rendering the thyroid inactive via surgery or iodine radiation.

 

Hypothyroidism is the state in which the body does not produce enough thyroid hormone, often resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, and impaired memory. It can be caused by an autoimmune disease, impairment or removal of the thyroid, or certain medications. In most cases, patients with hypothyroidism will need a thyroid hormone replacement medication to return to their levels to optimal. 


Thyroid disorders, once diagnosed, are usually treated with medications. The medication regimens are typically straightforward and once the correct dosage and prescription are found the patient should see a reduction of symptoms and a return to normal. 


However, some with thyroid disorders go untreated either by choice or because their condition is yet to be diagnosed. So what are the risks associated with untreated thyroid conditions? 


Potentially Devastating Consequences


Hypothyroidism, when left unchecked, can cause a host of serious symptoms. One of those symptoms is heart disease. Those with hypothyroidism often experience weight gain and usually, this weight gain is in part due to water retention. 


All of this fluid retention will not only result in puffiness but could lead to high blood pressure (hypertension) and/or congestive heart failure. Hypothyroidism also can cause a build-up in your arteries due to its effect on the body of elevated cholesterol levels. 


Heart disease isn’t the only grave outcome. Kidney disease is another possible result of untreated hypothyroidism. Researchers aren’t yet sure of the correlation, but a 2018 study found that those with hypothyroidism had a slightly higher risk of chronic kidney disease than those without.  


Additional issues posed by forgoing treatment are infertility, goiter, cognitive issues, and coma. If you suspect you have hypothyroidism or have concerns and questions regarding your medication, you should visit a doctor


Though the results of untreated hypothyroidism can be quite dire, the outcome of untreated hyperthyroidism can be even more life-threatening and may occur swiftly. 


One of the most severe complications of hyperthyroidism is a thyroid storm. This condition can lead to cardiac arrest and possibly death. When your body has a surge of thyroid hormone it can cause a sudden elevation in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. As these increase, they can approach dangerous levels and even lead to cardiac arrest. 


Aside from a thyroid storm, your heart can be affected in other ways by a surplus in thyroid hormone. Heart palpitations are a common symptom of hyperthyroidism, but when left unchecked the disorder can cause arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation (a quivering heartbeat), or even heart failure. 


Thyroid storm and heart irregularities have quick and severe consequences. Bone loss, however, is a slowly accumulating and long-lasting side effect of untreated hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism attributed to autoimmune diseases, notably Graves’ disease, can speed up bone loss and make you more susceptible to osteoporosis.


Is It Ever Safe Not to Treat? 


If your doctor has prescribed you medication or treatment for your thyroid condition, it is generally a good idea to follow their directions. However, in some cases, thyroid disorders may not need to be treated or at least not indefinitely, and your doctor will let you know. 


If your thyroid condition was caused by pregnancy, some individuals may be able to cease treatment after giving birth and their levels will return to normal. Additionally, some individuals may be considered borderline hypothyroid in which the possible side effects of taking levothyroxine, such as heart palpitations and possible bone loss, do not outweigh the decline in hypothyroidism symptoms. 


If you are on the borderline of having what is considered a thyroid condition your doctor may wait and test your blood levels before prescribing something. A re-check will usually happen within six to twelve months. The Mayo Clinic found that around thirty percent of people who were borderline hypothyroid returned to average thyroid levels within one year with no treatment. 


However, the decision to treat or not to treat should not be taken lightly. Nor is it a decision that should be made without the guidance of your doctor or other medical professionals. The outcome of not treating moderate to severe thyroid conditions can be severe and life-threatening. 


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