What Is Thyroidectomy?

Illustration of thyroidectomy
Illustration of thyroidectomy

Thyroid gland removal is surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located inside the front of the lower neck. The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system. It helps your body regulate your metabolism.

Depending on the reason you are having your thyroid gland removed, the type of thyroidectomy you have will be either a total thyroidectomy, which removes the entire gland or a subtotal or partial thyroidectomy, which removes part of the thyroid gland.

You will have general anesthesia (asleep and pain-free) for this surgery. In rare cases, the surgery is done with local anesthesia and medicine to relax you. You will be awake, but pain-free.

During the Procedure

  • Our surgeon makes a 3- to 4-inch cut in the middle of your neck, right on top of the thyroid gland. Or, the surgeon makes a smaller cut less than 2 inches long
  • All or part of the gland is removed through the cut
  • Our surgeon is careful not to damage the blood vessels and nerves in your neck
  • A small tube (catheter) may be placed into the area to help drain blood and other fluids that build up. The drain will be removed in 1 or 2 days.
  • The cuts are closed with sutures (stitches)
  • Surgery to remove your whole thyroid may take up to 4 hours. It may take less time if only part of the thyroid is removed

Why the Procedure Is Performed

You may have surgery if you have an overactive thyroid gland and do not want to have radioactive iodine treatment, or you cannot be treated with anti-thyroid medicines.

Your doctor may also recommend thyroid removal by Dr. Suliburk if you have any of the following:

  • Thyroid cancer
  • A small thyroid growth (nodule or cyst)
  • A thyroid gland that is so overactive it is dangerous (thyrotoxicosis)
  • (benign) tumors of the thyroid that are causing symptoms
  • Thyroid swelling (nontoxic goiter) that makes it hard for you to breathe or swallow

Before the Procedure

You may need to have tests that show exactly where the abnormal thyroid growth is located. This will help the surgeon find the growth during surgery. You may have a CT scan, ultrasound, or other imaging tests.

Your doctor may also do a fine needle aspiration to find out if the growth is noncancerous or cancerous. Before surgery, your vocal cord function may be checked.

You may also need thyroid medicine or iodine treatments 1 to 2 weeks before your surgery.

Before surgery, an anesthesiologist will review your medical history and decide what type of anesthesia to use. The anesthesiologist is a doctor who will give you the medicines that will make you sleepy and keep you pain-free during surgery. The anesthesiologist will also monitor you during surgery.

Fill any prescriptions for pain medicine and calcium you will need after surgery.

Several days to a week before surgery, you may be asked to stop taking medicines that make it harder for your blood to clot. 

You will probably be asked to stop eating or drinking at some point the night before or day of surgery. Your doctor or nurse will give you specific instructions.

Ask your doctor which medicines you should still take the day of surgery.

If you smoke, try to stop. Your recovery time will be shorter if you do not smoke. Ask your doctor or nurse for help.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital. Be sure to arrive on time.

After the Procedure

You will probably go home the day after surgery. In rare cases, patients spend up to 3 days in the hospital. You must be able to swallow liquids before you can go home.

Your doctor may check the calcium level in your blood after surgery. This is done more often when the whole thyroid gland is removed.

You may have some pain after surgery. Most patients are able to get up and walk on the day after surgery. It should take about 3 to 4 weeks for you to fully recover.

Follow any instructions for taking care of yourself after you go home.

Outlook

Outcome of this surgery is usually excellent. Most people need to take thyroid hormone pills (thyroid hormone replacement) for the rest of their lives when the whole gland is removed.

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