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
a condition called
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 often associated with myasthenia gravis, but may be associated with other conditions.
Trans-sternal approach—An incision will be made in the skin over your breastbone. The breastbone will be pulled apart. The thymus gland will then be exposed and removed. The incision will be closed with stitches or staples.
Transcervical approach—A small incision is made across the lower part of the neck, just above the breastbone. The thymus gland will be removed. The incision will be closed with stitches or staples.
Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) or
robot-assisted thoracic procedures
—This is a less invasive option. Several tiny incisions are made in the area. A tiny camera will be inserted through one of the incisions. The camera will send images to a monitor in the room. Robotic arms may be used to do the surgery. Special tools will be passed through the remaining incisions to remove the thymus. After the thymus is removed, the incisions will be closed with stitches.
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:
Washing their hands
Wearing gloves or masks
Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
Washing your hands often and reminding your healthcare providers to do the same
Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
Not allowing others to touch your incision
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 3 months before you can return to work or school. Follow your doctor's instructions.
If the surgery was done for myasthenia gravis:
Improvement in muscle strength may take several months to a few years.
It is important to work with a neurologist during the recovery period to regulate medications.