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Thyroidectomy 101 – The Surgery, Its Risks, and Recovery

Thyroidectomy 101 – The Surgery, Its Risks, and Recovery

Thyroidectomy surgery
Dr. Natalie Bessom
Medically reviewed by

Natalie Bessom D.O. Board-certified family medicine doctor with specialty training in nutrition, USA

What is a Thyroidectomy? 

Thyroidectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland. In some cases, it may also involve removing nearby lymph nodes and surrounding tissue.

The location of the thyroid gland makes a thyroidectomy a particularly delicate surgery: as its name suggests, the butterfly-shaped gland rests at the base of your throat, just below your Adam’s apple. The hormone produced by your thyroid gland controls how quickly you burn energy and how sensitive you are to other hormones. The production of this hormone is regulated by another hormone called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) made in your pituitary gland (located at the base of your brain). Together these two glands regulate heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure and weight gain/loss.

Because this procedure involves an incision on the front of your neck, it carries cosmetic risks—you can expect to have a scar after surgery.

Why would you need a Thyroidectomy? 

Thyroid surgery, or thyroidectomy, can treat thyroid conditions and thyroid cancer. If you have a thyroid condition, such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove part of your thyroid gland. This procedure can help relieve symptoms. If you have thyroid cancer, the surgeon will likely need to take out all of your gland to prevent the cancer from spreading. Thyroid surgery can also cure most types of thyroid cancer

Risks associated with a Thyroidectomy

  • Bleeding. 
    • Bleeding is a risk with any operation, but with thyroid surgery there is an especially high chance of bleeding because the blood vessels in your neck are narrow. 
    • If you bleed profusely, you may need a transfusion. In some cases, the bleeding cannot be stopped during the operation and you may need to return to surgery or another procedure to stop it.
  • Infection. 
    • You will be given antibiotics before and after surgery to reduce your risk of infection. If there is an infection in the incision or wound area following surgery, it will most likely appear within two weeks after the operation. 
    • The incision may also become red and swollen as part of this infection, which can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Damage to the parathyroid glands.
    • The glands are located behind your thyroid gland on both sides of your neck. 
    • During thyroidectomy, these glands can either detach from their blood supply or get damaged by cutting them out along with surrounding tissue containing cancerous cells—both situations are undesirable because they can cause low calcium levels in your body (known as hypoparathyroidism). 
    • This condition leads to symptoms such as tingling sensations in your lips or fingers; seizures; spasms; poor muscle coordination; and cataracts (cloudy vision).
  • Damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerve that controls vocal cord movement.
    • The voice can be damaged after surgery.
    • It is possible, over time, to improve your voice outcomes.

After Surgery. 

For most patients, the hospital stay is only overnight. If you are having minimally invasive thyroid surgery, you may be able to go home the same day of surgery. If a large incision was made to remove your thyroid gland (traditional or open thyroidectomy), you will probably stay in the hospital for one night before going home.

The usual recovery period for a traditional thyroidectomy procedure is about two weeks, and for minimally invasive thyroidectomy it’s about one week or more. ThyForLife members report linear periods of recovery and months. Head over to our in-app community to see what members of ThyForLife say about their recoveries.

You should be able to resume normal activities after two weeks, and return to work if your job does not require heavy lifting or straining of the neck area. Your doctor will let you know when it’s safe for you to go back to work after surgery depending on your healing process and type of job.If your job requires more intense physical labor or even just the occasional heavy lifting, though, it’ll probably take anywhere from 4-6 weeks before you should head back.

You can always check with your doctor if you’re unsure—and always remember that everyone’s recovery is different, so don’t feel like you’re behind schedule if your friend who had the same surgery as you was up and at ’em right away. Just make sure to follow any instructions your surgeon gave regarding dressing changes, activity restrictions and pain management for best results.

Your doctor will also advise you on the amount of activity you take part in while recovering after surgery and medication. Diet after a thyroidectomy consists of easy to swallow foods and liquid. 

 

Managing your thyroid health on top of your general health can sometimes be overwhelming, especially with the amount of stress you might experience.If you’re looking for answers or curious what other people with thyroid conditions are using – head over to the ThyForLife News & Community section! 

There you can ask and answer questions anonymously with other community members, participate in daily polls and discussions, and gain access to more medically reviewed content like this article. 

At ThyForLife, we do our utmost to provide accurate information. If you require more detailed information regarding medical terms, conditions, and practices please consult your healthcare professional. Always listen to the advice of your healthcare provider. 

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