As we noted on our page about endocrine surgery, a thyroidectomy is a removal of part or all of your thyroid gland. The operation can be performed for a variety of reasons, and it can be completed in a number of different ways. Below, we will explain the logistics of the operation, and we’ll go into some of the reasons why someone may need to undergo the operation.
Do You Need a Thyroidectomy?
Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that is located at the base of your neck. The purpose of the thyroid gland is to regulate a bunch of mechanisms that affect your metabolism, from your heart rate to how your body burns calories. Because of all the essential functions the thyroid performs, any problem with the gland can have serious complications.
Some common problems that make it necessary to undergo a thyroidectomy include:
- Thyroid cancer – This is the most common reason for a thyroidectomy. If cancer develops in the thyroid gland, you’ll most likely need to have most if not all of your thyroid removed via a thyroidectomy.
- Thyroid Goiter – A goiter is categorized as a noncancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland. This enlargement can make it difficult to breathe or swallow, and it can also contribute to hyperthyroidism. Again, doctors address the site with a thyroidectomy to remove some or all of the affected gland.
- Overactive Thyroid – Another name for an overactive thyroid is hyperthyroidism, and it’s a condition where your thyroid produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism can be treated with a thyroidectomy, but it can also be cared for with drugs and radioactive therapy.
Thyroidectomy Procedure Basics
If you’re considering a thyroidectomy, here’s what you can expect:
The operation is performed with the assistance of general anesthesia, so you won’t be awake during the procedure. Once the anesthesiologist has administered the anesthetic, you will be outfitted with a series of devices to monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels. After the devices are equipped and you are unconscious, the surgical team will make a small incision on the center of your neck or a series of small incisions a few inches from the gland.
Next, the surgical team will gently move any structures in order to access the gland, and then they work to slowly remove part or all of the thyroid. If the thyroidectomy was performed because you had cancer, your doctor may also inspect or remove your lymph nodes to ensure the cancer can’t spread. This process can take several hours. Once the surgical team is satisfied that the gland has been fully addressed, they will close the wound and move you to a recovery wound.
During recovery, you may need to drain some fluid buildup in your neck. This is typically done the morning after surgery, but it is not always necessary. During the recovery period, you may experience a variety of symptoms, including:
- Neck pain
- Weak voice
- Discomfort while breathing
Despite the long surgical procedure, most patients can go home 24 hours after the operation, and they can eat or drink as usual after the surgery. You can typically return to all activities 10 days after the operation, but you’ll want to consult with your doctor for specific recovery expectations.