Frequently Asked Questions About Parathyroid Surgery

Some of the most common questions regarding parathyroid surgery include the following:

What type of anesthesia will I have for parathyroid surgery?

Parathyroid surgery can be performed under two types of anesthesia: general or local anesthesia. With general anesthesia an endotracheal tube is carefully placed in your airway and you are completely asleep during the operation. With local anesthesia, you receive intravenous sedation and your neck area is numbed with a local anesthetic. With the local anesthesia approach, patients are kept in a "twilight" state during surgery and usually have no recall of the operation. Either approach is safe and allows for same day discharge. Most parathyroid operations are performed under local anesthesia.

How will my voice be monitored during my parathyroid surgery?

Voice monitoring can be performed by having patients speak during surgery while under local/regional anesthesia. In some circumstances, your surgeon may use intra-operative nerve monitoring during your surgery, but this approach requires a general anesthesia.

Will my surgeon use parathyroid hormone (PTH) monitoring during surgery?

PTH monitoring during surgery will allow your surgeon to know if you have been cured during the operation by demonstrating an appropriate decrease in your PTH level after removal of the abnormal parathyroid gland.

How long will I be hospitalized?

Depending on the duration of your parathyroid surgery, the type of anesthesia you have, your medical history, and your condition after surgery, you may be kept in the hospital overnight. However, most patients can go home the same day after a two to three hour observation period in the recovery room.

Will I have pain after the parathyroid surgery?

All operations involve some pain and discomfort. Our goal is to minimize this discomfort. At the time of operation, your surgeon will give you some numbing medicine, which usually lasts about four to six hours after surgery. Although you should be able to eat and drink normally, the main complaint is pain with swallowing. Most patients take Tylenol® or Motrin® to keep them comfortable at home, but you will receive a prescription for a mild painkiller.

Will I have stitches?

Your incision will be closed with a single suture under the skin and may be covered with a special kind of skin glue. The skin glue is waterproof so that you can shower as usual (but do not submerge the incision for 5 days). The coating will peel off on its own within seven to ten days and a moisturizer can be applied to the wound at that time.

Will the parathyroid surgery leave a scar?

Yes, all surgery causes scarring, and how a patient scars is dependent on the individual. However, there are minimally invasive parathyroid surgery techniques that leave no scarring. These techniques include smaller incision size, careful incision placement, and hypoallergenic suture materials (to avoid inflammation). As a general rule, it is unusual for adults to have a noticeable scar after six months. Please apply sun block to your scar for the first year after surgery.

Will I have any physical restrictions?

Swimming is the only major restriction. In general, your activity level depends on how much discomfort you experience. Many patients have resumed regular activities within days after the operation. Most patients are able to return to work within the first week, and you are able to drive as soon as your head can be turned comfortably (this limitation is for driver safety).

Are there parathyroid surgery complications?

These possible complications are directly related to the operative experience of the surgeon, and these statistics are based on our own results. Although the risk of these complications cannot be eliminated entirely, they can certainly be minimized in the hands of an experienced parathyroid and thyroid surgeon.

Voice changes – Injuries of the nerves that control the voice are very rare in parathyroid surgery (about one in 300) and most are associated with parathyroid cancers or concomitant thyroid surgery. When this occurs, the main difficulties are projection of the voice and high-pitched sounds. It is usually described as a "hoarse" voice, but will not necessarily be considered abnormal by strangers. Usually voice changes are temporary, so the voice will return to normal within a few weeks; permanent change is very rare.

Low calcium levels – Up to 40 percent of people will have a temporary low calcium level post-op, and this is usually caused by the fact that once the hyperactive parathyroid gland(s) is removed, the remaining parathyroids take time to "wake up." Less than one percent (one in 200-300 people) may have a permanent low calcium levels. Symptoms of hypocalcemia include numbness and tingling in your hands, soles of your feet and around your lips. Some patients experience a "crawling" sensation in the skin, muscle cramps, or severe headaches. These symptoms appear between 24 and 48 hours after surgery. It is rare for them to appear after 72 hours. Symptoms can generally be prevented by taking calcium three times daily for seven days after surgery (Tums®, Caltrate® or Oscal® with Vitamin D). After the seventh day, reduce calcium to 1000-1200-mg daily. If symptoms develop, you should take extra calcium and notify your surgeon.

Bleeding in the neck – Bleeding is a rare (one in 300 patients) but potentially serious complication. You will be carefully observed for two to three hours in the recovery room (and sometimes stay overnight). Signs of a potential bleeding problem include: swelling in the neck, feeling short of breath, a choking sensation, and a high, squeaky voice.

What is the cure rate in parathyroid surgery?

In experienced hands, 95-98 percent of patients will be cured of their hyperparathyroidism.

When do I follow up?

Soon after your parathyroid surgery, please call your surgeon's office to make an appointment to be evaluated approximately one to three weeks after surgery. During your post-op visit, your surgeon will give you a prescription to have your calcium, PTH and Vitamin D levels measured. Please be sure to have these results sent to your surgeon.

Contact Us

Mount Sinai Union Square

Fax: 212-202-4713 or 212-202-4995

The Garlock Division of General Surgery
5 East 98th Street
3rd Floor (Mail Box 1259)
New York, NY 10029

1470 Madison Ave at 101st Street
3rd Floor (Mail Box 1259)
New York, NY 10029

Related Resource

Mount Sinai Ambulatory Surgery Center [PDF]