During thyroid gland surgery, all or part of the thyroid gland is removed. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the lower front part of the neck, below the voice box.
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing hormones, regulating metabolism, helping the body conserve heat and making sure the organs are functioning properly.
The thyroid may develop issues that may cause it to produce too much or too little hormone, to grow cysts or nodules, or to become swollen. Thyroid surgery may help resolve these issues.
Benefits of a Thyroid Gland Surgery
Thyroid gland surgery may correct hyperthyroidism and address goiters, which are large nodules that block the throat and interfere with breathing, speaking and eating. Thyroid gland surgery may also be necessary to treat thyroid cancer.
Three Types of Thyroid Surgery
The three types of thyroid surgery are lobectomy, subtotal thyroidectomy and total thyroidectomy.
During a lobectomy, the surgeon removes only one of the two lobes. The remaining part of the thyroid is able to continue functioning.
During a subtotal thyroidectomy, the entire thyroid gland is removed but a small amount of thyroid tissue is left behind to help preserve some thyroid function. Patients who undergo a subtotal thyroidectomy may develop a condition called hypothyroidism when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. In these cases, patients will need to take hormone supplements on a daily basis.
During a total thyroidectomy, the surgeon removes the entire thyroid and the thyroid tissue. This procedure is necessary when patients have cancer or when nodules, swelling or inflammation are affecting the entire thyroid gland.
Side Effects and Risks
Risks of thyroid surgery include:
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia
- Heavy bleeding
- Damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerves
- Damage to the parathyroid glands
What to Expect During Thyroid Gland Surgery
Before the procedure can begin, the patient is given an intravenous (IV) line that is inserted into a vein in the arm or hand. The patient will then receive general anesthesia.
The surgeon will begin by making an incision over the thyroid gland and remove all or part of the gland and tissue and lymph nodes if necessary. Because the thyroid is surrounded by many nerves and glands, the procedure may take two or more hours.
The patient will wake up in the recovery room. Staff will check the patient’s vital signs and administer pain medication. The patient will then be transferred to a hospital room and remain under observation for 24 to 48 hours.
Some thyroid gland surgeries may be performed through a robotic thyroidectomy. During this procedure, a small incision is made in the armpit or the mouth in order to remove all or part of the thyroid gland.
After the Procedure
Patients may resume daily activities the day after surgery, but should avoid engaging in strenuous activities for 10 days. Patients will likely have a sore throat and need to take over-the-counter pain medication to relieve the soreness.
If patients develop hypothyroidism, they will be prescribed some form of levothyroxine to help balance hormone levels.