Thyroid Gland Surgery

The thyroid gland is made up of two halves (called lobes) that are connected in the middle (called the isthmus). The thyroid gland secretes thyroid hormones. These hormones control the speed of the body’s metabolism (also called the metabolic rate).

To the right is a diagram of the thyroid gland.

A surgeon may remove the entire thyroid gland (total thyroidectomy) or a part of the gland (partial thyroidectomy), depending upon your condition. The usual neck incision is 3 to 5 inches in length and is made in the lower part of the central neck.

Before your surgery

Before your surgery, your doctor may ask that you have tests done, such as blood tests or an EKG (electrocardiogram). The tests you need will depend on your age and medical history. Not all patients have the same tests. Your doctor will tell you if the tests will be done in the doctor’s office or when you are in the hospital.

A staff member will call you before your surgery. He or she will tell you what time to arrive, where to park, and where to check in. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery.

Day of surgery

You may brush your teeth in the morning, but do not swallow any liquid. When you arrive at the hospital, you will put on a patient gown. An IV (intravenous) needle will be placed in a vein in your arm. You will receive fluids through your IV during and after surgery.

After your surgery

Following surgery, you will be taken to the recovery room. Your family will be told when your surgery is over. You will spend 1 to 2 hours in the recovery room, depending on how quickly you wake up from the anesthesia. When you are fully awake, you will be moved to your room on the patient unit.

You may have a small tube (drain) in your neck to remove fluid from the incision. It is normal to have some blood drain from the tube.

You may have a sore throat from the anesthesia tube. Your neck may feel stiff. Some patients have an upset stomach from the anesthesia. You will probably have some pain. Your nurse can give you medicine prescribed by your doctor to relieve pain and nausea.

Thyroid surgery may affect your calcium level. Your nurse will check you for signs of low calcium. These signs include numbness and tingling around your mouth, in your fingers and toes, and facial twitching. You also may have blood drawn to check your calcium level.

You will be able to visit with your family, brush your teeth, and get out of bed with help from your nurse. You also will be able to drink liquids once you are fully awake and in your room.

First day after surgery

You may have blood drawn in the morning. Your drainage tube and IV will probably be removed. You will be able to eat breakfast. You will probably be discharged. Before you go home, your nurse will give you written instructions on how to take care of your incision at home, activity restrictions, diet, new medicines (if any), and when to make your follow-up appointment with your doctor.

If you or your family has any questions during your stay, be sure to ask your nurse.


Reviewed July 2011

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