14 Tips for Living Well With Thyroid Disease

Thyroid patients have the power to live well.. clipart.com

The writer Norman Cousins said, "Drugs are not always necessary, but belief in recovery always is." As a thyroid patient, your belief, and your plan for getting well and staying well are always going to be a crucial part of your overall health.

For most of us, there's no one magic pill that ensures that we can live well with thyroid disease. Rather, the secret is an approach that blends both science and the art of living well.

It's always important to have the right doctor and get on the right treatments. This is essential. The science of living well also relies on resolving any other hormonal or chemical imbalances and health issues that might get in the way. For this, a productive partnership with caring, smart healthcare practitioners will take you a long way.

As far as the art of living well, that opens up a whole additional world of opportunities. You can explore alternative therapies and integrate them into your overall treatment, learn to develop a positive attitude, choose foods to nourish mind and body, or learn how to empower yourself to move forward on your own behalf.

Ultimately, success begins with a fundamental belief in your own recovery. Yes, thyroid issues may not be easy to completely resolve, and, yes, many doctors may not invest much energy in helping you meet the challenges the problem . . .

but leave that behind. You must have faith and believe that you can recover and go on to live well.

Let's take a look at some of the various approaches to help you live well.


Whether you have Graves' disease and are considering the merits of antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine (RAI), and surgery, or you're hypothyroid, and comparing levothyroxine, T4/T3 therapy, and natural thyroid treatments, it's critical to work towards finding the right treatment.

Antithyroid drugs may not control your hyperthyroidism, or cause side effects, while RAI or surgery would resolve things more easily. Finding the right treatment or drug -- at the right dosage -- is not an automatic process for everyone, and may require some experimenting and patience. Since my own hypothyroidism diagnosis in 1995, I've been on various brands of levothyroxine, added in synthetic T3, and also taken natural thyroid drugs. My doctor and I didn't need any medical textbook or double-blind study to tell us that I do better on one thyroid drugs or another, but it's also a trial and error process. You may have to go through this process periodically as well, but it's worth it to ensure you're getting the right medicine and dosage you need.


The right doctor is an important—almost essential—part of living well. You probably can live well despite your doctor, if you truly have no option but to work with an HMO doctor you're stuck with, or the only endocrinologist within 500 miles.

When you have a choice, however, one of the most important things you can do is find a great doctor and leave the bad ones behind. Personally, I have to say that I am extremely lucky, in that I have a wonderful doctor who is my partner in the search for wellness. Some resources to help:


I can't emphasize enough how important it is for you to really understand thyroid disease. You must take it upon yourself to understand what's going on, so you can ask the right questions, discuss options with your doctor, and find another doctor if yours doesn't make sense.


One important thing everyone with thyroid disease can do is help educate others and correct common misconceptions about the condition. For example, few people know much about hypothyroidism, beyond unfairly characterizing it as "a disease that makes middle-aged women fat." This unfair, inaccurate characterization is part of the reason the disease is so often overlooked and underdiagnosed by doctors, and why there is so little interest in finding better treatments and cures. Part of living well is making sure that others understand and doing your part to raise awareness.

Sometimes, education starts at home. The most appalling letter I've ever received was from the husband of a woman just diagnosed with hypothyroidism. This man was clearly in the dark about the condition:

Is there really such a thing as a thyroid disease? Is it contagious? The women on my wife's side of the family all seem to have it. Is it hereditary? Does my wife's lack of ambition and motivation have anything to do with it . . . or is it simply the result of this "so called" disease? Will she be more ambitious or self-motivated if she takes Synthroid?

Honestly, I felt for his wife. Hypothyroidism seemed the least of her problems. But after sending him extensive information about hypothyroidism, he actually wrote back to say that he was trying to be more patient and understanding with his wife. So perhaps even he was capable of being "educated!"

When you encounter lack of understanding or misconceptions, take the time to explain the situation. You may even want to start your own local thyroid support group, to help other thyroid patients.


"Patient" is a confusing word. The word patient derives from a Latin verb, which means "to suffer." According to the dictionary, patient, as an adjective, means putting up with pain or provocation without complaint. The noun refers to an individual awaiting or under medical care and treatment, or "one that is acted upon." I'm not going to suggest that you should be a "patient patient," putting up with pain without complaint while you are "acted upon" by doctors! Rather, I prefer another definition: "remaining steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity."

Even with the best therapies or the right drug, you can't expect miracles overnight, so patience is essential at all stages of treatment. But patience doesn't mean inaction. One of the hardest aspects of a chronic condition like hypothyroidism is the need to be both patient and persistent at the same time. You can't give up trying to find the right answers, the right doctor, or the right treatment.


One aspect of living well with any chronic disease is surrounding yourself with supportive people. Spouses, family members, friends, children, coworkers, support group members—all can play a part in helping to encourage your return to good health. The last thing you need is someone who doesn't believe you are ill, makes fun of you, or doesn't cut you some slack when you're not feeling well.

Some of the best spouses and friends are those who take the time to understand thyroid disease, so they can understand you. Encourage your friend, partner or spouse to go to the doctor with you, to ask questions, and find out what you are going through. It will make the difficult times more understandable.

There are many support groups online, and some in person, that can also help. But do be careful that you aren't part of a support group that focuses solely on symptoms, to the exclusion of solutions. You don't want a group that has a particular agenda, i.e., to purchase particular supplements or a group that has bias against or rule preventing discussion of all of your options. There are, for example, some support groups online where moderators discourage or even prevent discussion of natural and alternative treatments. Be sure to check out groups before joining.

One resource that can help? Print out An Open Letter to the Family and Friends of Thyroid Patients and share with loved ones.


The buzzword for this is "empowerment," but let's call it what it is—being able to stick up for yourself with doctors and medical professionals. This is an absolutely essential skill for anyone with a chronic health problem because you're going to spend some time with health practitioners. No point wasting time and money being lectured at or cowed by your doctor. Learn to stick up for yourself, speak up, and say your peace.

You may face some opposition from stubborn or old-school doctors -- I certainly have -- but it's your life, and your health!

Integrative physician Dr. Don Michael has some advice:

I tell all my patients, "don't believe any doc blindly, not even me. Listen, ask questions, bring a friend or relative or spouse, pick you doc more carefully than your mechanic, don't be afraid to go elsewhere. This is not your parent, you are not a little kid, and you deserve respect and answers." After having lost a mother, a brother, and about 20 years of my life to undiagnosed, untreated hypothyroidism, I really feel that this is a battle for our lives. Take no prisoners, fight like your life depends on it...it does.


Listening to and trusting your own body and instincts is an important part of living well. This can be hard if you're not yet diagnosed and are told time and time again "it's in your head," or "it's not your thyroid."

My doctor is often amazed at how accurate I can be in estimating my TSH levels. I can definitely tell the difference between a TSH of 1.5 versus 4 versus 5.5. If you listen to your body and trust your own instincts, you can probably become quite good at monitoring your own thyroid levels as well.


When you have a condition like thyroid disease, which can affect so many aspects of your health, there's a tendency to take it to an extreme. You'll sometimes want to blame everything from your latest toothache to an ingrown toenail on your thyroid.

You can end up elevating the thyroid to a level of importance that leads you to believe that tweaking your thyroid treatment is a cure-all for everything. And if that doesn't work, you can end up feeling a sense of hopelessness. That's when it's useful to take a step back when therapy seems to fail and look at the various interrelated functions of the body, before assuming that the thyroid is at the core of all the problems.


Stress has a major effect on a chronic health concern like thyroid disease. Stress aggravates hyperthyroidism, and changes your body's need for thyroid hormone in hypothyroidism, a need that can't always be met on a fixed dosage. Stress also generates brain chemicals that contribute to depression, anxiety, and other diseases. When you lower stress, you cause changes in the brain and the immune system that actually increase the ability to fight disease.

Look at the various stressors in your life with an eye toward reducing or eliminating as many as possible. Exercise, mind-body practices like yoga and T'ai Chi, deep-breathing techniques, meditation, relaxation tapes, and prayer can all be extremely effective.  It's important to find methods that work for you and to actively practice them, while at the same time removing or reducing those stress factors that you can control. Our Stress Management site here at Verywell.com has some excellent ideas on various techniques that can help manage stress.

Another major source of physical stress is not getting enough sleep. Many of us get far less than the recommended seven to eight hours per night, and end up exhausted, and depleted. Sleep is an important way to help restore immune function, and if you compromise on sleep, it will definitely add to your stress levels.


Exercise has so many positive benefits to everyone, including thyroid disease patients, that it should be included in everyone's wellness efforts. Unless you are trying to lose weight, the type of exercise is not as important as simply incorporating some daily activity into your life. Gardening, dancing, housework – all can be considered exercise. But it's likely that you'll stick to it if it's an activity you truly enjoy. And remember -- any exercise is a help. Whether it's something fairly relaxing like tai chi or yoga, or marathon running, find the exercise you like that you can do regularly.

Need some ideas on what exercise to do? I personally do T-Tapp, a mindful movement program that builds muscle, without exhaustion. But if you are looking for other ideas, check out Paige Waehner's wonderful Exercise site here at Verywell.com.


Doris Lessing wrote: "Laughter is by definition healthy." She was right. A sense of humor goes a long way in dealing with illness.

William F. Fry., M.D., of Stanford University, an expert for the past thirty years on the physiological effects of humor, has said that he believes laughter may actually trigger physical changes that help ease pain. It's thought that laughter causes the brain to release hormones that cause the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers.Studies have shown that laughter can actually improve the immune system. In the end, humor acts as a critical vaccine, protecting your emotional and mental immune system, and can help protect your body from the effects of stress, particularly due to long-term chronic illness.


A positive emotional state can actually help ward off disease and even prolong life, according to research. The theory is that the more optimistic a person is, the less stress put on the body over time. When there is little stress, the body thrives, is able to better ward off infection, and has more resources to devote to healing.


Ultimately, living well with thyroid disease means deciding that you are going to be a person who voyages through life, rising above your thyroid condition. You may ultimately learn to live with it, work around it, even reverse or cure it, but somehow, you will live well.

I feel that part of living well is also being realistic. Even if you can't be cured, you can strive to be healed.

As I wrote in my article, I'm Tired, I'm Frustrated, and I GIVE UP! ,

Only you can decide if you have indeed done everything you can do -- and more importantly, want to do -- to feel better. Only you can decide if you have actually given it enough time, tried enough different thyroid medications, seen every practitioner you can, explored diets from low-carb to low-fat to low-cal, dealt with the mind-body aspects of chronic disease, and so on. If you want more ideas and advice in this respect, I'm here to help.

But if you have truly done everything you personally can do, then the next step is acceptance, and moving on. It's deciding that it is time to focus on being healed, instead of being cured.

The only person who can give you permission to let go and move on is you. But please do know that as you move on, there are many of us moving on right alongside you.

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Ups and downs in health may always be there for those of us with thyroid disease, but there's one thing that no pill or endocrinologist or herb can change, and that's how we choose to live our lives, and whether our health controls us, or vice versa. You have the power within you to live well.

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