Frequently Asked Questions - Thyroid Surgery
What type of anaesthesia will I have?
You will have a general anaesthesia. You will be completely asleep during the
How much of my thyroid will be removed?
That depends on your condition and your doctor's advice. When the entire
thyroid is removed, the operation is called a total thyroidectomy. You will need
thyroid hormone replacement for life. A thyroid lobectomy or hemithyroidectomy
is when half the thyroid is removed. In most instances (99%), the remaining half
can make enough thyroid hormone and you will not need tablets.
How long will I be hospitalised?
Most patients are admitted to the hospital on the morning of their surgery
and are able to go home the next day.
Pateints with overactive thyroids or thyroid cancer sometimes stay two days.
Will I have a scar?
Yes. All surgeries cause scarring, and how a patient scars is dependent on the individual. A thyroid scar is a horizontal scar on the neck. There are some
techniques that surgeons use to minimise scarring. These techniques include
careful incision placement and hypoallergenic suture material (to avoid
inflammation). As a general rule, it is unusual to have a very noticeable scar
after six months. Scars continue to fade for
When will I know the findings of the surgery?
A final pathology report requires careful study of the surgical specimen.
Therefore, the final report is usually not available until about one week after
Will I have pain after the operation?
All operations involve some discomfort, but most patients are surprised at
how comfortable they
after surgery. Although you should be able to eat and
drink normally, the main complaint is sore throat and discomfort with
swallowing. Most patients take Panadol or Nurofen to keep them comfortable at
home. You will have a prescription for something stronger for the first few days
in case you need it, but beware prescription pain medicine can make you drowsy
and constipated, so do not drive or operate heavy machinery, and drink lots of
water and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Will I have stitches?
You will have stitches on the inside that dissolve on their own. You will
have a waterproof Comfeel dressing so that you can shower or bathe as usual (but
do not submerge the incision for 5 days). Leave the dressing in place until your
first post-operative visit, where it will be removed.
Do not be alarmed if a small “blood blister” is visible under the dressing. If present, it will come off when the dressing is removed.
Will I have any physical restrictions after my surgery?
In general, your activity level depends on the amount of discomfort you
experience. Many patients have resumed golf or tennis within a week after the
operation. Most patients return to work in a week or two, and you are able to
drive as soon as your head can be turned comfortably without prescription pain
pills (this limitation is for driver safety).
What are the potential complications of thyroid surgery?
The nerves that control your voice are very closely associated with the
thyroid gland. Temporary voice changes are not uncommon, but usually resolve
within weeks to months. In 1 in 100 thyroid operations, the nerves that control
the voice are permanently affected by the surgical removal of the thyroid. When
this occurs, the main difficulties are projection of the voice and production of
high pitched sounds. It is usually described as hoarse, but will not necessarily
be considered abnormal by strangers.
Sometimes the parathyroid glands will not function after a total thyroidectomy.
These are four tiny, delicate glands that are located near the thyroid. Since
the parathyroid glands control calcium levels, their dysfunction results in a
lowered calcium level. Therefore, some patients require calcium supplements on a
temporary basis. If the parathyroids do not recover, calcium or vitamin D may be
needed on a permanent basis. This occurs in about 2 in 100 total thyroidectomy
There is a small risk of bleeding into the space where the thyroid used to be.
If this happens, it may be necessary to have a second operation to evacuate the
blood so it does not interfere with your breathing. Infection is relatively
uncommon after this operation, but is easy to treat should it occur.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF THYROID SURGERY?
As with anything in life, there are risks to surgery. These risks are weighed
against the risks of not having surgery. Listed below are some of the possible
complications of surgery. Risks include, but are not limited to:
- Permanent voice damage...........1%
- Permanent parathyroid damage........2-4% (total thyroidectomy only)
- Infection of Incision........................................... Less than 1%
- Haematoma or Bleeding..................Less than 1%
- Seroma (fluid collection, swelling).......5% (higher after removal of very
- Swelling and black/blue....................................About 5%
- Keloid or hypertrophic scar.........rare
- Other unforeseen risks
You will require general anaesthetic, given by a specialist anaesthetist. Risk
of a serious complication in a healthy person is very rare. Potential risks
include, but are not limited to:
- Heart problems (death, heart attack, arrhythmias)
- Lung problems (pneumonia, wheezing)
- Blood clots (stroke, clots in leg veins or lungs)
- Drug reactions (also possible with local anaesthetic)
- Chipped teeth
- Other unforeseen risks
You will meet the anaesthetist before your operation and have the chance to
discuss these further.