Teal-colored illustration of anatomical thyroid gland

Can You Live Without A Thyroid Gland?

Medically reviewed on Sept 20, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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A healthcare provider may perform a thyroid removal (thyroidectomy) if a patient has a small thyroid growth, thyrotoxicosis, thyroid cancer, or thyroid swelling. Thyroid removal is also an alternative to radioactive iodine treatment in people with overactive thyroid. [1]

While there are risks of a thyroidectomy, the good news is that you can live without a thyroid. However, patients will need to take thyroid hormone pills for the remainder of their lives. [1]

Understanding The Function Of The Thyroid

The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that plays an important role in your body’s endocrine system. This system regulates various bodily processes through the production of hormones. [2]

The thyroid, specifically, controls your metabolic rate through thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Collectively, these hormones are called ‘the thyroid hormone’. [2]

To trigger the production of the thyroid hormone, the gland must first receive signals from the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of your brain. The brain releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which causes the pituitary gland to do the same. Once the thyroid receives these signals, it produces T3 and T4. [3]

When T4 enters the bloodstream, cells in the liver, kidneys, and muscles convert it into T3, the active version of the hormone. Thyroid hormone then makes its way throughout the body, impacting [3]:

  • Metabolic rate
  • Heart rate
  • Body temperature
  • Digestion
  • Brain development
  • Muscle contractions
  • Skin and bone maintenance

Unfortunately, abnormal thyroid hormone levels can occur, disproportionately impacting women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB). [3]

While too high or too low thyroid hormone levels may occur due to an issue with the brain or pituitary gland, they most often arise when the thyroid cannot function properly. Common thyroid issues include [3]:

  • Hyperthyroidism – Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland becomes overactive, producing an excessive amount of thyroid hormones. This can lead to symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, weight loss, and nervousness.
  • Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism presents the opposite scenario, in which the thyroid gland underperforms, resulting in insufficient production of thyroid hormones. This deficiency can manifest in fatigue, weight gain, and depression.
  • Hashimoto’s Disease – Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder, occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid tissue, gradually causing it to become underactive. This leads to hypothyroidism over time.
  • Graves’ Disease – Graves' disease, another autoimmune disorder, causes the thyroid gland to become overactive due to the immune system mistakenly stimulating it. This thyroid condition can result in symptoms like bulging eyes, irritability, and weight loss.
  • Thyroid nodules – Thyroid nodules are growths or lumps that can develop within the thyroid gland. While most are benign, some nodules may become cancerous, requiring medical evaluation.
  • Thyroiditis – Thyroiditis encompasses various conditions causing inflammation of the thyroid gland. It can be due to infection, autoimmune processes, or other factors, and may result in temporary hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
  • Goiter – Goiter refers to the enlargement of the thyroid gland. This enlargement can occur due to various thyroid disorders, including hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or even iodine deficiency. Goiters can also make it difficult to breathe or swallow.
  • Thyroid Cancer – Thyroid cancer is a less common but serious condition in which cancerous cells develop in the thyroid gland. Early detection and treatment are crucial for managing thyroid cancer effectively.

See related: Heterogeneous Thyroid

Reasons For Thyroid Removal

To treat certain thyroid disorders, such as thyroid cancer, goiter, and hyperthyroidism, healthcare providers may choose to perform a thyroidectomy. Varying degrees of the thyroid may be removed, or it can be removed entirely. [4]

If you undergo a partial thyroidectomy, your thyroid may still work normally. However, a full thyroidectomy removes the thyroid completely. Those who have their entire thyroid removed will require daily thyroid hormone medications.4 You must also check for signs your thyroid medication is working.

Everlywell Thyroid Health Support Virtual Care

Thyroid Removal Risks

A thyroidectomy typically takes only two to three hours, and healthcare providers usually put the patient under with anesthesia. As with any surgery, anesthesia poses a risk and may cause breathing complications, bleeding, blood clots, and/or infection. [1]

The thyroidectomy procedure itself can also run into a few roadblocks,namely [1]:

  • Nerve damage to the vocal cords or larynx
  • Bleeding and airway obstruction
  • Injury to nearby glands (parathyroid glands)
  • Temporary rise in thyroid hormone levels

Thyroid Removal Aftercare

Following the complete or partial removal of the thyroid, people can usually return home on the same day, just as long as they can swallow liquids without issue. [1]

Some patients can experience pain following the thyroid surgery, but it’s common for healthcare providers to prescribe pain medications to assist with recovery, which can take four to six weeks. [1]

Patients undergoing complete thyroid removal must also undergo thyroid hormone replacement therapy. The daily pills synthetically mimic the thyroid hormone to ensure the body maintains its metabolic function. [5]

Monitor Your Thyroid Levels With Everlywell

So, can you live without a thyroid? Most definitely. When a thyroid is completely or partially removed, a healthcare provider can prescribe thyroid hormone replacement pills to mimic the thyroid function and maintain homeostasis throughout the body.

If you believe your thyroid is not functioning properly, test your hypothesis with the Everlywell At-Home Thyroid Test. With one finger prick, a third-party lab can measure your blood levels for three main thyroid hormones, including T3 and T4, to provide you with the insights you need to support your overall health and wellness.

10 Signs Your Thyroid Medication Is Working

PCOS and Hypothyroidism: What's the Connection?

3 Signs Your Thyroid Medication Is Too Low

Heterogeneous Thyroid: Causes & Treatment


  1. Thyroid gland removal. Mount Sinai. URL. Accessed September 12, 2023.
  2. Thyroid. Cleveland Clinic. Published June 7, 2022. URL. Accessed September 12, 2023.
  3. Thyroid hormone. Cleveland Clinic. Published February 15, 2022. URL. Accessed September 12, 2023.
  4. Thyroidectomy. Mayo Clinic. Published September 3, 2022. URL. Accessed September 12, 2023.
  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. URL. Accessed September 12, 2023.
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