What you can expect
Before the procedure
Surgeons typically perform thyroidectomy during general anesthesia, so you won't be conscious during the procedure. The anesthesiologist or anesthetist gives you an anesthetic medication as a gas — to breathe through a mask — or injects a liquid medication into a vein. A breathing tube will then be placed in your trachea to assist breathing throughout the procedure.
The surgical team places several monitors on your body to help make sure that your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen remain at safe levels throughout the procedure. These monitors include a blood pressure cuff on your arm and heart-monitor leads attached to your chest.
During the procedure
Once you're unconscious, the surgeon makes a cut (incision) low in the center of your neck. It can often be placed in a skin crease where it will be difficult to see after the incision heals. All or part of the thyroid gland is then removed, depending on the reason for the surgery.
If you're having thyroidectomy as a result of thyroid cancer, the surgeon may also examine and remove lymph nodes around your thyroid. Thyroidectomy usually takes one to two hours. It may take more or less time, depending on the extent of the surgery needed.
There are several approaches to thyroidectomy, including:
- Conventional thyroidectomy.This approach involves making an incision in the center of your neck to directly access your thyroid gland. The majority of people will likely be candidates for this procedure.
- Transoral thyroidectomy. This approach avoids a neck incision by using an incision inside the mouth.
- Endoscopic thyroidectomy. This approach uses smaller incisions in the neck. Surgical instruments and a small video camera are inserted through the incisions. The camera guides your surgeon through the procedure.
After the procedure
After surgery, you're moved to a recovery room where the health care team monitors your recovery from the surgery and anesthesia. Once you're fully conscious, you'll be moved to a hospital room.
Some people may need to have a drain placed under the incision in the neck. This drain is usually removed the morning after surgery.
After thyroidectomy, a few people may experience neck pain and a hoarse or weak voice. This doesn't necessarily mean there's permanent damage to the nerve that controls the vocal cords. These symptoms are often short-term and may be due to irritation from the breathing tube that's inserted into the windpipe during surgery, or be a result of nerve irritation caused by the surgery.
You'll be able to eat and drink as usual after surgery. Depending on the type of surgery you had, you may be able to go home the day of your procedure or your doctor may recommend that you stay overnight in the hospital.
When you go home, you can usually return to your regular activities. Wait at least 10 days to two weeks before doing anything vigorous, such as heavy lifting or strenuous sports.
It takes up to a year for the scar from surgery to fade. Your doctor may recommend using sunscreen to help minimize the scar from being noticeable.