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Thyroidectomy

Definition

A thyroidectomy is a full or partial removal of the thyroid. This is a gland in the neck that makes hormones that help the body turn food into energy.

The Thyroid Gland
The Thyroid

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Reasons for Procedure

This surgery may be done to remove:

  • An overactive thyroid, known as hyperthyroidism
  • An enlarged thyroid that is causing problems, such as making it hard to swallow or breathe
  • Thyroid nodule(s) that may be cancerous
  • Thyroid cancer

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to nearby structures
  • Low calcium levels in the blood
  • Voice changes

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
  • Medicines you may need to take before surgery, such as anti-thyroid medicines to suppress thyroid activity in people with hyperthyroidism
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Whether you need a ride to and from surgery

Anesthesia

General anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep.

Description of Procedure

An incision will be made in the front of the neck. All or part of the thyroid gland will be removed. Lymph nodes may also be removed. The incision will be closed with stitches. A drainage tube may be inserted to allow fluids to leave the site.

This surgery may also be done using small incisions and specialized tools.

How Long Will It Take?

About 2 to 4 hours

Will It Hurt?

Pain and swelling are common in the first 1 to 2 weeks. Medicine and home care can help.

Average Hospital Stay

The usual length of stay is 1 day. You may need to stay longer if you have problems.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

The staff may give you pain medicines.

During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your risk of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your incisions covered

There are also steps you can take to lower your risk of infection, such as:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
  • Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
  • Not letting others touch your incisions

At Home

It will take about 2 weeks to recover. Neck pain and a hoarse voice are common. Physical activity will be limited during this time. You will need to delay return to work.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision
  • Pain that you cannot control with medicine
  • Lasting nausea or vomiting
  • Felt very tired
  • Twitching or muscle spasms
  • Numbness or tingling around the hands, feet, or lips
  • Problems swallowing, talking, or breathing

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entnet.org

National Cancer Institute
http://www.cancer.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entcanada.org

REFERENCES:

Graves disease in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/graves-disease-in-adults. Accessed December 9, 2020.

Q & A: Thyroidectomy. American Thyroid Association website. Available at: http://www.thyroid.org/patient-thyroid-information/what-are-thyroid-problems/q-and-a-thyroidectomy. Accessed December 9, 2020.

Smith TJ, Hegedüs L. Graves' Disease. N Engl J Med. 2016 Oct 20;375(16):1552-1565.

Thyroidectomy. Cedars-Sinai website. Available at: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/programs/cancer/we-treat/head-and-neck/treatments/thyroidectomy.html. Accessed December 9, 2020.

Thyroidectomy. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments_and_procedures/hic_Parathyroid_Surgery/hic-thyroidectomy. Accessed December 9, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 4/23/2021