Thyroid Surgery

The thyroid, a small gland in your neck, plays a large role in how your body functions.

Surgery can help treat some thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism or cancer. It is also sometimes used to help diagnose certain thyroid problems. Thyroid surgery is safe and typically has good results. Before your procedure, your surgeon will talk with you about the type of thyroid surgery you will have and any risks and possible complications.

Before Surgery: Be sure to follow all instructions your surgeon gives you. Unless told otherwise, do not eat or drink for at least 8 hours before surgery. It is a good idea to pack an overnight bag. You may be able to go home the day of surgery, but many people need to stay overnight in the hospital.

During Surgery: The surgery takes from 2 to 3 hours. The length of time is determined by the amount of thyroid gland being removed. This amount varies based on what thyroid problem you have. Your surgeon may not be able to tell exactly how much thyroid gland needs to be removed until surgery begins.

Removing Part of the Thyroid: Procedures such as a lobectomy and a hemithyroidectomy may be used to treat benign nodules. They remove one section of the thyroid gland. This leaves some thyroid tissue in place to continue functioning.

Removing Most or All of the Thyroid: Some procedures are used to treat hyperthyroidism, multinodular goiter, or cancer. A subtotal thyroidectomy and a near total thyroidectomy remove most of the thyroid gland. A total thyroidectomy removes the entire thyroid gland. With these procedures, little or no thyroid tissue is left behind.

    After Surgery: You are likely to spend a few ours in the recovery room. You will be sent home or moved into another room to stay overnight. In the recovery room, your surgeon may check your calcium levels. This is to find out if the parathyroid glands were affected during surgery. You may have a drain that was placed at the wound site during surgery to help collect fluid. A sore throat or hoarseness after your procedure is common and should go away within a week or two.

    Recovering at Home: You should be able to return to a normal life in a few weeks. Shortly after your procedure, you will have a follow-up appointment with your surgeon. After this visit, your primary care doctor or thyroid specialist will monitor your recovery.

    Self-Care: For the first few days after surgery, you may need to keep your incision dry. Within a week, you should be able to resume most low-key activities. However, wait 2 to 4 weeks before doing anything  strenuous, such as heavy lifting (10 to 15 pounds or more). After surgery, you may need to take medications. These may include pain medication, thyroid hormone, calcium supplements, or antibiotics (if you go home with a drain in place). Your incision should flatten out and the scar should fade in about 6 months. Be sure to use sunblock on the scar for the first year after surgery.

    Follow-up Appointments: You will likely have a follow-up appointment with your surgeon within a week of the procedure. He or she will check the wound, take out stitches and remove the drain if necessary, and discuss your condition. Several weeks after surgery, a TSH test will be ordered. The results will determine if you need to take thyroid hormone pills.

    During the first week after surgery, call the surgeon if you have any of the following:

    • Bleeding
    • Fever
    • Increasing pain
    • Redness, swelling, or drainage at your incision site
    • Trouble breathing or swallowing
    • Muscle cramps, numbness or tingling in the fingers, or twitching in the face (signs of a low blood calcium level)