Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thyroid Surgery Overview: Move Over Frankenstein!

Thyroid surgery is performed in a number of circumstances, including when cancers are found, when enlargement causes cosmetic or respiratory problems, when other forms of treatment are ineffective, and when a pregnant woman's hyperthyroidism cannot be controlled by other means.

In most cases, surgery of the thyroid is not highly complicated, and usually takes no more than two hours. It is frequently performed on an outpatient or overnight basis, with general anesthesia.

There are few complications that result, but when they do, they typically fall into one of two categories: damage to the voice box and / or vocal cords, or damage to the parathyroid glands. If there is damage to the parathyroid glands, this will affect the levels of calcium in the blood, however, this is very rare.

 There are three main types of thyroid surgery:

  1.  Total Thyroidectomy -- complete removal of the thyroid.
  2.  Subtotal Thyroidectomy -- removal of half of the gland
  3.  Thyroid Lobectomy -- removal of only about a quarter of the gland 

Thyroid Gland Removal

Definition: Thyroid gland removal is surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid gland. 
  • Total thyroidectomy removes the entire gland.
  • Subtotal or partial thyroidectomy removes part of the thyroid gland. 
The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system and plays a major role in regulating the body's metabolism.

Alternative Names:
  • Total thyroidectomy
  • Partial thyroidectomy
  • Thyroidectomy

 Description: Thyroidectomy is done while you are under general anesthesia (unconscious and pain-free). Sometimes it is done with regional anesthesia (awake, but pain-free). The surgeon makes a cut in the neck and locates the gland. All or part of the thyroid gland, depending on the particular procedure, is removed.

Why is the Procedure  Performed?
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Thyrotoxicosis
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) with enlargement of the gland
  • Thyroid Cancer
  • Thyroid swelling (nontoxic goiter)
  • Hashimoto's disease (a type of hypothyroidism)
 The procedure may also be done if a patient with hyperthyroidism does not want to have radioactive iodine treatment and cannot be treated with anti-thyroid medications.

Surgical Risks 

Risks for any anesthesia include the following:
  • Reactions to medications
  • Problems breathing

Risks for any surgery include the following:
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
Additional risks for thyroidectomy include the following:
  •  Bleeding and possible airway obstruction
  • Temporary or permanent loss of ability to speak due to paralysis of the vocal chords
  • Inadequate thyroid function (hypothyroidism)
  • Injury to the adjacent parathyroid glands
  • Inadequate level of calcium in the blood known as hypocalcemia.

 Outlook (Prognosis)

When performed by experienced endocrine surgeons, the outcome of thyroid surgery is usually excellent. Thyroid function tests may need to continue following thyroid surgery, and thyroid hormone replacement maybe necessary.


In general, patients recover rapidly from uncomplicated thyroid surgery. Most patients are able to resume most normal activities within 1-2 weeks.

Reviewed By: J.A. Lee, M.D., Assistant Professor of Surgery, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.


The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites.

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