What Is a Thyroidectomy?

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Surgery performed on the thyroid gland is known as a thyroidectomy.

This usually involves removing all (a total thyroidectomy) or part (half – a Subtotal/Partial Thyroidectomy or quarter – Thyroid Lobectomy) of the thyroid.

A thyroidectomy may be performed as treatment for thyroid cancer, when a goitre or nodule is causing problems or as a form of treatment for hyperthyroidism (it could be after trying radioactive iodine therapy and/or antithyroid drugs, with no success).

A total thyroidectomy is most common, and most commonly performed for thyroid cancer or hyperthyrodism.

Actual surgery to perform a thyroidectomy typically last a few hours at most and is pretty straight forward. You may need to stay a night or two in hospital, however.

If you are having a thyroidectomy performed, check with your surgeon about any medications you are taking, and if you should stop taking any of these before the operation. You’ll also want to ask about eating and drinking prior to it, too.

Thyroid surgery is most commonly performed with general anaesthesia.

A total thyroidectomy has nearly a 100% chance of causing hypothyroidism, so, understandably, some surgeons prefer to perform a partial thyroidectomy whenever possible, as they believe that enough thyroid tissue can be left to prevent hypothyroidism and still produce enough thyroid hormones. However, the risk of developing hypothyroidism after a partial thyroidectomy is still quite high and many people find that having part of their thyroid left just isn’t enough to do the job.

Post surgery, you will be left with a 3-5 inch scar that should become less noticeable over time.

Most surgeons use dissolvable stitches, but the non-absorbable stitches can cause less scarring, say some members of my Facebook group.

Before you are discharged, your incision is usually covered with a clear protective waterproof glue, which allows you to bathe or shower after the surgery. This should come off within a week or so, on its own.

You may notice some swelling or bruising around your incision, and this is expected, but excess swelling or bleeding must be reported to a doctor straight away. Any signs of infection must also be reported ASAP.

As expected, you may experience some short-term pain and neck stiffness after surgery; eating and drinking may be difficult or uncomfortable. As already explained, a lot of people become hypothyroid after a thyroidectomy, and require thyroid hormone medication for life, so you’ll need to have regular full thyroid panels to monitor this.

You’ll be expected to need one to two weeks to recuperate after the surgery, so expect to book some time off work. You’ll also need to return for a follow-up appointment to talk to your surgeon/doctor about how you’re doing, post-op. Make sure to raise any concerns here, especially about monitoring your thyroid levels going forward.

It’s worth knowing that adrenal fatigue seems to affect some people after this surgery, as explained by STTM, so you should also monitor yourself for signs and symptoms of this, and complete a 24 hour saliva test if you suspect you could have it.

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Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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Rachel Hill, Thyroid Patient Advocate, blogger and author, has Six 2018 WEGO Health Award Nominations. She is a highly ranked writer appearing in the Top Hypothyroidism Websites and Top Thyroid Websites and has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, The BBC, The Mighty, Yahoo, MSN and ThyroidChange, to name just a few. She is well-recognised as a useful contributor to the thyroid community and also contributed the foreword to Emily Kyle’s The 30-Minute Thyroid Cookbook.

2 thoughts on “What Is a Thyroidectomy?

  1. This may have nothing to do with this particular article but I can’t seem to get any answers as to why my hypothyroidism meds keep changing. Have had 3-4 changes in a yr. or so.

    I am on Prednisone occasionally due to Emphysema and know that Pred. causes me to become sometimes severely Hyperthyroid again. (was Hyper originally 30+/-years ago and had 2 doses of Radioactive Iodine)

    If I need to ask this elsewhere, please direct me. Thank you so much.
    Ruth J.

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