Thyroid Surgery FAQs

What does the thyroid gland do?

The thyroid gland, located in the neck just below the larynx, regulates the body's energy levels and metabolism. Thyroid hormones affect the body's oxygen consumption, temperature control, and overall functioning.

When is thyroid surgery necessary?

Thyroid surgery is used primarily to treat hyperthyroidism, hyperactivity of the thyroid gland. When a patient suffers from this condition, an excess of thyroid hormone is secreted by the gland. This may occur for several reasons, including benign thyroid nodules, Graves disease (an immune disorder), or thyroid cancer. Surgery is necessary if medications or other treatments, like radioactive iodine, are ineffective in getting hormone secretion to an appropriate level, or if one of the following conditions exists:

  • Cancer is present or suspected
  • The gland, or a thyroid nodule, is large enough to cause breathing or swallowing problems
  • A thyroid cyst refills more than once after being drained
  • The patient is pregnant and cannot safely be treated through other methods

What are the different types of thyroid surgeries?

There are several types of thyroid surgery. These include:

  • Biopsy, removal of a tissue sample for microscopic examination
  • Lumpectomy, removal of a small diseased part of the thyroid gland
  • Lobectomy, removal of one lobe of the thyroid and the isthmus that joins the lobes
  • Subtotal thyroidectomy, removal of one lobe, the isthmus, and part of the second lobe
  • Total thyroidectomy, removal of the entire gland and the surrounding lymph nodes

What is the preparation for thyroid surgery?

As with all surgeries, a full medical history must be taken before surgery and the patient must have a thorough physical examination. The patient is required to refrain from eating or drinking after midnight the day before the operation.

What happens during thyroid surgery?

Depending on several factors, especially how extensive the procedure will be, the operation may be performed traditionally or with a minimally invasive video-assisted, sometimes robotic, procedure. The patient will have a breathing tube in the throat during surgery and a drain in the neck which may remain in place for 12 hours after the procedure. The length of the surgery depends on how much needs to accomplished. Minimal operations may be performed outpatient, while more complex procedures will require one or two nights of hospitalization.

What happens during recovery from thyroid surgery?

After the procedure, the patient's throat will be sore due to the breathing tube inserted during surgery. Once discharged from the hospital, patients should be able to return to normal activities the next day of within a few days. Strenuous activities, such as heavy lifting or vigorous sports, should be avoided for at least 10 days after the operation.

What risks are involved in thyroid surgery?

Thyroid surgery is generally a safe procedure. There is a slight risk that the vocal cord nerves may be damaged during the surgery, resulting in hoarseness or other changes in voice quality, but laryngeal monitoring usually keeps this risk in check. The other risks of thyroid surgery are the risks inherent in any surgical procedure, including those of excessive bleeding, abnormal blood clots, adverse reactions to anesthesia or medication, and breathing difficulties.

Is aftercare necessary after thyroid surgery?

While most thyroid surgeries are very successful, the majority of patients develop hypothyroidism as a consequence of the procedure. This condition will require ongoing treatment with hormone therapy, but is not usually problematic. The patient may also need follow-up treatment with radioactive iodine to shrink thyroid tissue either because hyperactivity of the gland continues to be an issue or in order to stem the growth of a thyroid cancer.

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