Located in the neck just below the larynx, the thyroid gland regulates your body’s energy levels and releases hormones that regulate your metabolism. Thyroid hormones influence virtually every organ system in the body, telling organs how fast or slow they should work. Thyroid hormones also regulate the consumption of oxygen and the production of heat.
Thyroid surgery is used to treat a variety of thyroid conditions such as thyroid cancer, thyroid nodules, and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland).
Reasons For Having Thyroid Surgery
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, speeding up the body’s metabolism. Symptoms include:
- Wish to improve one or more of the signs of aging indicated above
- Are men or women whose faces have begun to sag, but whose skin still has some elasticity
- Are generally healthy
- Do not smoke
- Have realistic expectations
- Are considering a facelift for personal reasons, not because someone else is pressuring them to do so
Hyperthyroidism is usually treated with anti-thyroid medication, which decreases the production of thyroid hormone in the body, and/or beta-blockers, which help control symptoms. Another medication, radioactive iodine, acts by breaking down the thyroid.
If hyperthyroidism cannot be treated with medication, surgery is recommended.
A thyroid nodule is a small swelling or lump in the thyroid gland and is fairly common. These nodules are either a growth of thyroid tissue or a fluid-filled cyst. Surgery is needed if the thyroid nodule is large enough to cause problems with breathing or swallowing. If a nodule is fluid-filled, your doctor may be able to drain it. However, if the nodule returns after drainage, it may have to be surgically removed.
If cancer is present or suspected in the thyroid, surgery is a must. This is often accompanied by follow-up treatment with radioactive iodine to prevent the cancer from returning.
Types Of Thyroid Surgery
Depending on the type of surgery, you may need to have all or part of the thyroid removed.
- Biopsy or Lumpectomy – Only a small part of the thyroid gland is removed.
- Lobectomy – If nodules are located in only one lobe of the thyroid, your surgeon will remove that lobe alone. With a lobectomy you may also need an isthmectomy, in which the narrow band of tissue (isthmus) that connects the two lobes is also removed.
- Subtotal (near-total) Thyroidectomy – Removal of one complete lobe, the isthmus, and part of the second lobe.
- Total Thyroidectomy – Removal of the entire gland (both lobes and the isthmus) and the lymph nodes surrounding the gland.
Recovery From Thyroid Surgery
Thyroid surgery can take up to 2 hours. After the procedure you may feel soreness in your throat because of the breathing tube that was inserted. You will be hospitalized for about 24 hours following the operation and will be able to return to normal day-to-day activities the next day. You should not engage in strenuous activities, such as heavy lifting or vigorous sports, for at least 10 days after the operation.
Expectations After Thyroid Surgery
Thyroid surgeries are often very successful. Afterwards, you will be able to do everything you did before you had the surgery.
Many patients develop hypothyroidism (decreased thyroid activity) after surgery, which requires treatment with thyroid hormone. This is more common in surgeries for thyroid cancer.
The success of a thyroidectomy to remove thyroid cancer depends on the type of cancer and whether it has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body. You may need follow-up treatment with radioactive iodine to treat cancer that has metastasized or to help prevent the cancer from returning.
Risks And Complications
Thyroid surgery is generally a safe procedure, but complications may occur. The nerves controlling your voice can be damaged, resulting in hoarseness and a change of voice. Also, bleeding can occur, causing acute respiratory distress. Hypoparathyroidism (decreased parathyroid activity) may also occur if the parathyroid gland is damaged during surgery. These risks are most common in more invasive thyroid procedures involving extensive lymph node involvement, large goiters, and invasive tumors.