(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 TOP
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
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
General anesthesia will be given—you will be asleep during the procedure
Description of Procedure TOP
There are 3 common methods:
Immediately After Procedure TOP
You will be taken to a recovery room and monitored for any complications.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
About 1-3 hours
How Much Will It Hurt? TOP
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital Stay TOP
The usual length of stay is 1-3 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.
Post-procedure Care TOP
At the Hospital
You will be given fluids and medication 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.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
The recovery time varies from person to person, 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. Follow instructions on wound care to prevent infection. Your doctor may advise medications to ease discomfort.
If the surgery was done for myasthenia gravis:
Call Your Doctor TOP
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have 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:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated March 22, 2013. Accessed May 22, 2013.
Myasthenia gravis fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
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.
6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Mills E, Eyawo O, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.
Last reviewed February 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 1/23/2014