What is Thyroidectomy?

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in front of the neck, just below the voice box (larynx). It produces thyroid hormone, which is necessary for metabolism and proper functioning of the body. Any disease or abnormality of this gland can cause many physiological problems in the body. Thyroidectomy is a procedure to remove a part or all of the thyroid gland. Total thyroidectomy is a surgical procedure to remove all of the thyroid gland. Partial or subtotal thyroidectomy involves removing a part of the thyroid gland.

Indications for Thyroidectomy

Thyroidectomy is usually recommended for thyroid conditions such as nodules, cysts, thyrotoxicosis (overactive thyroid gland), cancerous and non-cancerous tumours, and swelling of the thyroid that is making it difficult to swallow or breathe.

Preparing for the Surgery

  • Before surgery, you will receive a complete medical evaluation and your doctor will discuss your surgery in detail.
  • The anaesthetist attending the procedure will also evaluate you. You should notify your doctor of any allergies or any medications you are taking.
  • You may be instructed to stop taking certain medications prior to surgery.
  • Nasoendoscopy will be performed to check your vocal cords and their function.
  • 8 hours before the procedure, you should have nothing to eat or drink.

Surgical Procedure

  • The surgery is performed under general anaesthesia. Your surgeon makes an incision of about 4-6 centimetre in the centre of your neck, through which the thyroid gland is excised.
  • In a minority of patients, a small tube (catheter) is inserted to drain accumulated blood and fluids. The incisions are then closed with stitches or sutures.
  • This entire procedure takes about 1 to 3 hours to complete if the entire gland is removed and much less time when only a part of the gland is removed.

Following surgery, you will be taken to a recovery room where you are monitored for a few hours and will normally be able to return home the next day. Eating and drinking may be a little painful initially. Your doctor will prescribe medications for pain. Routine activities may be resumed the day after your procedure. Complete recovery may take 2-4 weeks.

Risks and Complications

As with any surgery, thyroidectomy may involve certain risks and complications which include surgical scar, bleeding, infection, damage to parathyroid glands present near the thyroid (resulting in low calcium levels) and damage to nerves connected to your larynx and vocal cords (causing hoarseness, speaking or swallowing problems). You will have to take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of your life after total thyroidectomy.