Thyroid Surgery FAQ

The thyroid is a gland that is located in the neck and regulates many functions of the body. The heart, energy and weight are a few things that function correctly with the hormone produced by the gland. When the thyroid is not functioning properly it may cause various conditions, including nodules that are benign (non-cancerous) or cancer related.

Thyroid operations are sometimes necessary when patients experience complications from the thyroid gland. There are times that the thyroid gland becomes enlarged causing a goiter, is overactive causing hyperthyroidism or is underactive causing hypothyroidism.

What are reasons for the surgery?
When a patient experiences hyperthyroidism or goiters, it is important for an evaluation and testing to be done to see if surgery is an option. Surgery is usually performed when there are goiters that can become large and for hyperthyroidism. Most times when there is cancer, surgery is part of the process to get rid of the cancer.

Are there non-surgical treatments?
If the thyroid is affected with cancer then removal by surgery is imperative. The cancer can continue to grow without surgery and jump into other locations within the body. If it is a condition of the thyroid that does not have cancer than there are options available to assist with thyroid problems.

Your primary physician has more information for various options and may refer you to an endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in thyroid and other hormone-producing functions of the body) for further examination.

What tests and procedures should be performed before an operation?
It is important to have a thorough examination that includes a medical history. Blood tests and a heart evaluation are needed along with testing for any patient who may have had vocal or throat surgery in the past.

How do I choose a surgeon?
It is best to find a surgeon who specializes in thyroid surgery. Surgeons who have a history of performing many, successful surgeries is usually the best. The complication rate with an experienced surgeon is lower. Your primary physician may know a reputable surgeon for you to meet with. 

What risks are associated with thyroid surgery?
There are known risks associated with all surgeries. Complications from thyroid surgery are usually less than two percent. Some of the risks include bleeding that can cause sudden breathing problems, injury to a nerve in the throat that can cause permanent hoarseness and parathyroid damage that can cause calcium deficiency in the body. 

Is the whole thyroid gland removed?
Different complications require different amounts of the thyroid to be removed. Usually, with thyroid cancer most or the entire thyroid is removed. Your doctor and surgeon will be able to discuss the amount that needs removed.

What happens once surgery is decided to be the best option?
You will meet with several doctors and/or nurses for an evaluation before your surgery. You will meet the doctor who puts you to sleep with anesthesia and with the surgeon.

You cannot eat or drink anything the night before your surgery.

You should wear comfortable clothes and leave important objects and all your jewelry at home or with a loved one. Removing your wedding ring or any rings is usually best because of post-operative swelling that may leave your hands puffy.

The surgery usually takes around two hours and then you spend another 45 minutes in a quiet recovery room. You may have a drainage tube in the incision that is removed the next day and experience a sore throat.

After the anesthesia fully wears off you will move into a regular hospital room and stay the night. Most patients leave the following day and can resume normal activities. Strenuous exercise, sports and heavy lifting should be avoided for at least 10 days.

Is life after surgery the same?
Life after thyroid surgery is the same and does not alter your ability to do the same things as before the operation. Sometimes, it is necessary to start taking thyroid hormone to replace, or give a level balance from the loss of the gland. Thyroid hormone is an inexpensive and small pill taken once a day.