Thyroidectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland. This gland is in the neck. It produces hormones that regulate metabolism. The surgery may be a:
- Total or near-total thyroidectomy—all of the thyroid is removed
- Thyroid lobectomy or partial thyroidectomy—removal of only a part of the right or left lobe and/or center of the thyroid
The Thyroid Gland
Reasons for Procedure
All or part of the thyroid gland may be surgically removed for any of the following reasons:
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Damage to the parathyroid glands
- Low blood calcium—usually temporary
- Voice changes due to damage to nerves leading to the voice box—rare
- Thyrotoxic crisis, which is a sudden excessive release of thyroid hormone at toxic levels—very rare
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor may do the following:
- Physical exam
Laboratory and/or imaging tests
to assess thyroid function
- MRI scan
- Thyroid hormone testing
- Anti-thyroid medications to suppress thyroid activity in those with hyperthyroidism
- Thyroid scan
Leading up to your procedure:
- Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.
- Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the procedure.
- Arrange for transportation to and from the hospital.
General anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep.
Description of Procedure
An incision will be made in the front of the neck. Bleeding vessels will be clamped and tied off. All or part of the thyroid gland will be cut away from other tissues in the neck. Care will be taken to avoid injury to other nearby glands and nerves. Bleeding is controlled with special tools that compress and seal the ends of the vessels. The incision will be closed. The edges of skin will be stitched together. A drain will often be left in overnight. It will help drain any extra fluids.
The thyroid may be removed to treat thyroid cancer. In this case, lymph nodes in the area may also be removed. This will test if the cancer has spread.
In some cases, the doctor may be able to remove the thyroid using endoscopic surgery. This involves making small incisions, instead of a large incision in the neck. This is becoming more common.
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital Stay
The usual length of stay is one day. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.
At the Hospital
- There will be discomfort in your neck for several days. The pain can be treated with medication.
- In some cases, you may have a hoarse voice for a few days.
- Depending on how much of the thyroid is removed, you may need to take replacement thyroid hormone.
- In some cases of thyroid cancer, you may need radioactive iodine treatments. This is called remnant ablation.
To help ensure a smooth recovery:
- Keep the incision clean and dry.
- Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
- Do not get the incision wet until your doctor allows. If it does get wet, dry it right away.
- Do not apply make-up, lotion, or cream to the incision area.
- Perform neck exercises as instructed by your doctor.
- Take all medications as prescribed by your doctor.
Call Your Doctor
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- Numbness or tingling around the lips or extremities
- Twitching or muscle spasms
- Excessive and progressive fatigue
- Difficulty swallowing, talking, or breathing
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- Persistent nausea and/or vomiting that you cannot control with the medications you were given
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Pain that you cannot control with the medications you were given
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
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 August 7, 2013.
Thyroidectomy. Cedars-Sinai website. Available at: http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Programs-and-Services/Head-and-Neck-Cancer-Center/Treatment/Thyroidectomy-.aspx. Accessed August 7, 2013.
Thyroidectomy. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments_and_procedures/hic_Parathyroid_Surgery/hic-thyroidectomy. Accessed August 7, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.