When I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease I chose not to take antithyroid medication to manage my hyperthyroid symptoms. Many of my patients and email subscribers attempt to manage their symptoms without taking medication as well. On the other hand, many others will choose to take antithyroid medication and/or beta blockers while trying to restore their health. If you have hyperthyroidism and are deciding whether you should take the medication or manage your symptoms naturally I would make sure to read this entire post.
Keep in mind that my goal isn’t to scare anyone with this information, but just to make you realize that unmanaged hyperthyroidism comes with a great risk. While getting a heart arrhythmia or suffering from a thyroid storm is rare, this can and does happen at times. But if you do a good job of managing your symptoms the risk of developing these or other health conditions is less likely to happen. So let’s go ahead and look at some of the things you need to do in order to safely manage your hyperthyroid symptoms.
1. Take action quickly. When I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism I knew that I was going to do something natural about it. However, it took a few months before I took anything to manage my symptoms, which is a long time when you have an elevated heart rate. This was foolish of me, and I’m lucky that nothing serious happened to me. But some people aren’t as lucky when going a prolonged period of time without managing their hyperthyroid symptoms. And so whether you choose to take prescription medication to manage the symptoms, or try taking herbs such as bugleweed and motherwort, it’s a good idea to take action quickly.
But what should you do if you can’t see a doctor quickly? Sometimes it can be a few months before you can get in to see an endocrinologist, and if you plan on working with a natural healthcare professional it also can take some time. Some people do choose to take herbs and supplements on their own to manage their symptoms, although it can be challenging to know what dosage to take. If you prefer to take the medication, while it might take some time before you see an endocrinologist, you probably were referred to this endocrinologist by a primary care physician, and chances are he or she will give you something to manage the cardiac symptoms. While they might not write a prescription for antithyroid medication, most will at least recommend a beta blocker to lower the heart rate.
2. Keep in mind that the herbs don’t work for everyone. I was fortunate not to have to take any medication, as I used the herbs bugleweed and motherwort to manage my symptoms. And over the years I have had many patients who also effectively managed their symptoms when taking the herbs. However, the herbs don’t always do a good job of managing the symptoms in everyone, and there are some people who need to take the medication. If the herbs do work then in most cases they should kick in within two to four weeks, and sometimes sooner than this.
3. You need to weigh the risks vs. benefits. Everything comes down to risks vs. benefits. I’ve worked with numerous patients who refused to take the medication, even if the herbs weren’t doing a good job of managing their symptoms. And while there are certain circumstances when this is understandable, such as if the antithyroid medication causes elevated liver enzymes, or if someone has a negative reaction to the medication, if someone tolerates the medication well then it can be a good option.
Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not trying to convince anyone to take antithyroid medication or beta blockers. However, I am suggesting that doing so is better than landing in the emergency room due to a thyroid storm. For example, if someone has a resting heart rate of 150 beats per minute or higher, this isn’t something to play games with. In fact, in this situation it might be best to take the medication immediately and not try the herbs, as you would want to lower the heart rate quickly. Fortunately most of my patients don’t have a heart rate this high, but even a heart rate of 120 BPM isn’t something to take lightly. My point is that sometimes it is necessary to take the medication, and don’t feel like you are giving in by doing so. While overall drugs are overused and abused, and although there are potential side effects of taking antithyroid medication and beta blockers, sometimes taking prescription drugs is necessary, and there is no shame in taking medication for a very high heart rate.
4. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of a thyroid storm. Although a thyroid storm is rare, it can happen, and when it does it’s an emergency situation. It may be triggered by an acute event such as thyroid or nonthyroidal surgery, trauma, infection, or an acute iodine load (1). Some of the symptoms include change in alertness, confusion, increased temperature, very high pulse rate, diarrhea, shaking, and sweating (2). If you suspect thyroid storm you should immediately go to the nearest emergency room.
5. You can restore your health regardless of how you manage your symptoms. Bugleweed, motherwort, lemon balm, and L-carnitine are some of the herbs and supplements used to manage the hyperthyroid symptoms. Just keep in mind that they aren’t doing anything to address the cause of the problem. And so whether you take medication to manage the symptoms, or take a natural approach, you still need to do things to address the underlying cause of your condition. And so for those people who take antithyroid medication such as Methimazole, PTU, or Carbimazole, or a beta blocker such as Propranolol, you can still can take a natural treatment approach.
Why Did I Decide To Write This Post?
If you’re wondering why I decided to write this post, there are a few reasons. Of course the main reason is because I work with a lot of patients with hyperthyroidism, and from time to time I consult with someone who prefers not to take any medication, even if they are putting their health at risk. In fact, as of writing this post I’m working with a teenager with Graves’ Disease whose symptoms aren’t being effectively managed by the herbs, and her mother doesn’t want for her to take Methimazole. She was concerned about the Methimazole causing liver failure, which is unlikely, although I can certainly understand the concern of the mother. But once again, everything comes down to risks vs. benefits, and the risk of this teenager having problems from not taking the medication is in my opinion much greater than her experiencing liver failure.
I had another situation recently when a patient of mine with Graves’ Disease sent an email to inform me that his heart rate was over 190 BPM while working. Of course I advised him not to overexert himself and to take it easy, and it’s important to point out that while he was trying to manage his symptoms with the bugleweed, he also had a prescription for a beta blocker that he wasn’t taking. He was concerned about the side effects of the beta blocker, but when someone has a pulse rate of 190+ BPM the main concern should be to get the heart rate down as quick as possible, and to not worry about having a negative reaction to the medication.
Should You Just Receive Radioactive Iodine?
I’m sure there will be a few people reading this and wonder if the “benefits” of receiving radioactive iodine are greater than the potential “risks” of treating your condition naturally. Of course only you can make this decision, but I do want to say that if people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease do what is necessary to manage their symptoms and receive the proper guidance when taking a natural treatment approach, then the risks of something bad happening is low. On the other hand, with regards to receiving radioactive iodine, there are risks of being exposed to radiation, and there are also risks of not having a functioning thyroid gland, which is usually a consequence of receiving this treatment.
Truth to be told, there are people who receive radioactive iodine and are pleased with their decision. On the other hand, there are many people who receive this treatment and never feel the same again, and they end up regretting their decision. The problem is that you don’t know which category you will fall under. And if someone receives radioactive iodine and doesn’t respond well, there is less of a chance that they will benefit from a natural treatment approach.
In summary, when following a natural treatment protocol it is important for anyone with hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease to manage their symptoms. Some will choose to do this with medication, while others will attempt to manage their symptoms with herbs such as bugleweed and motherwort. Either way, you want to make sure to take action quickly, and keep in mind that herbs such as bugleweed and motherwort don’t work for everyone, as some people do need to be on the medication. Plus, if you choose to take the medication to manage your symptoms you still can restore your health, as you just want to make sure you’re safe while addressing the cause of your condition.