Thyroid Surgery

Thyroid problems can cause uncomfortable and painful symptoms. Surgeons at MaineHealth are experienced in treating patients with thyroid problems.

What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is a small gland shaped a like a butterfly located in the lower front part of the neck, just below the voice box. The thyroid produces hormones that regulate metabolism. It also plays a role in keeping the organs functioning properly and helping the body conserve heat. Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should.

What is thyroid surgery?

Sometimes the thyroid produces too much hormone. It may also develop structural problems, such as swelling and the growth of cysts or nodules. Thyroid surgery may be necessary when these problems occur.

Thyroid surgery involves removal of all or a part of the thyroid gland. A doctor will perform this surgery in a hospital while the patient is under general anesthesia. Surgery is used to treat thyroid problems if:

  • Thyroid cancer is present or is suspected
  • A noncancerous (benign) nodule is large enough to cause problems with breathing or swallowing.
  • A fluid-filled (cystic) nodule returns after being drained once or twice
  • Hyperthyroidism cannot be treated with medicines or radioactive iodine
  • A thyroid gland is so overactive it is dangerous (thyrotoxicosis)
  • Thyroid swelling (nontoxic goiter) is making it hard to breathe or swallow

Thyroid surgery types

Depending on the reason for surgery, either part of or the entire thyroid will be removed. Some of the types of thyroid surgery include:

  • Total thyroidectomy: removal of the entire thyroid and the thyroid tissue. This is appropriate when nodules, swelling, or inflammation affect the entire thyroid gland, or when cancer is present.
  • Thyroid lobectomy: removal of only one of the two lobes. The remaining part should retain some or all of its function.
  • Subtotal (near-total) thyroidectomy: removal of the thyroid gland, but a small amount of thyroid tissue is left to preserve some thyroid function.

Thyroid surgery evaluation

All patients considering thyroid surgery should be evaluated preoperatively. Evaluation for thyroid surgery usually includes:

  • A thorough and comprehensive medical history
  • Physical exam
  • Cardiopulmonary (heart) evaluation
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest x-ray
  • Blood tests to determine if a bleeding disorder is present

Thyroid surgery risks

Thyroid surgery is generally a safe surgery, but as with any operation, there are potential complications. Some risks associated with thyroid surgery include:

  • Hoarseness and change of voice
  • Hypoparathyroidism
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Difficulty breathing

Thyroid surgery recovery

Thyroid surgery usually requires a day or two stay in the hospital after the procedure. Time spent in the hospital and recovery time depends on age, the type of surgery done, general health status, and whether cancer is present. Recovery may involve a brief limitation in rigorous activity. Throat soreness is common but may be treated with an over-the-counter pain medication. After surgery for hyperthyroidism, some people will have low calcium levels and may need to take calcium supplements.