(Removal of the Thymus Gland)
by Krisha McCoy, MS
A thymectomy is surgery to remove the thymus gland. This gland is located in the upper portion of the chest, behind the breastbone.
Reasons for Procedure
The thymus gland helps immune cell growth. It is usually active when you are an infant, but its function reduces as you get older. The thymus acts abnormally when a person has myasthenia gravis. A thymectomy is used to treat myasthenia gravis.
A thymectomy may also be done if the thymus has a tumor, which is called thymoma. These types of tumors are associated with myasthenia gravis.
Possible Complications TOP
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a thymectomy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
General anesthesia will be given. You will be asleep.
Description of Procedure
There are three common methods:
Immediately After Procedure
You will be taken to a recovery room. There, you will be monitored for any complications.
How Long Will It Take?
About 1-3 hours
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia will block the pain during the surgery. You may feel some pain as the anesthesia wears off. Your doctor will give you medicine to help manage the pain.
Average Hospital Stay
The usual length of stay is 1-3 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.
At the Hospital
You will be given fluids and medicine through an IV. You will be instructed to practice deep breathing, coughing, and frequent turning. Nurses will measure your muscle strength and breathing ability to determine the effectiveness of the surgery.
The recovery time varies from patient to patient, depending on the surgical approach. It may take as little as 1-2 weeks or as long as three months before you can return to work or school. Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions.
If the surgery was done for myasthenia gravis:
Call Your Doctor TOP
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America, Inc.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
General Information about Thymoma and Thymic Cancers. National Cancer Institute. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/thymoma. Updated March 22, 2013. Accessed May 22, 2013.
Myasthenia gravis fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.n.... Updated December 4, 2012. Accessed May 22, 2013.
Shrager JB. Extended transcervical thymectomy: the ultimate minimally invasive approach. Ann Thorac Surg. 2010;89(6):S2128-2134.
Surgical treatment options for myasthenia gravis. University of Maryland Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.umm.edu/mg/surgery.html. Updated August 7, 2008. Accessed May 22, 2013.
6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ : Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed May 2013 by Kim Carmichael, MD; Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 5/22/2013