Doctor performing thyroid neck exam

You may not think much about your thyroid, but if you’re having problems, you’ll know. The thyroid is responsible for hormones that regulate a variety of conditions and actions in the body, and thyroid issues may be more common than you think.

In some cases, surgery is required to help heal issues with the thyroid, and that can be a scary thought. Surgery isn’t without risk, but with the right knowledge, you’ll be able to proceed with more confidence.

If your medical professional has recommended surgery, there’s no need to worry. We have everything you need to know right here, so you’ll be informed and ready.

Let’s take a look at the process from start to finish.

What Is The Thyroid?

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck towards your collar bone. It’s one of the body’s primary producers of hormones. Because hormones are responsible for initiating and regulating bodily processes, you may not notice these hormone producers until something goes wrong.

Thyroid hormone production is responsible for a variety of bodily processes. It helps you regulate your metabolism and is involved in the body’s breaking down food for energy production. It plays a role in temperature regulation and the functioning of nearly all your organs.

It also participates in things like how fast your heart beats, how deep you breathe, your menstrual cycles, and whether you gain or lose weight. These two hormones, T3 and T4, for short, are two hormones involved in so many aspects of how your body functions.

Common Thyroid Problems

When the thyroid begins to malfunction, you’ll feel its effects. The thyroid may produce too much or too little hormone, and it’s estimated that up to 12% of people, and more women than men, will experience issues with the Thyroid.

Here are a few common thyroid issues:

  • Hypothyroidism – When your thyroid doesn’t make enough hormones, you may experience weight gain, fatigue, and sluggishness.
  • Hashimoto’s – When your hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid, it falls under this diagnosis.
  • Hyperthyroidism – If your thyroid makes too much hormone, you may lose weight, feel irritable, and experience a racing heart. Sometimes this diagnosis comes in conjunction with a separate autoimmune disease, Graves Disease.
  • Goiter – Goiter causes swelling in the thyroid, affecting its functions. It’s caused by other thyroid functions or a lack of iodine.
  • Nodules – Growths on the thyroid may or may not affect its functions, but you’ll still want to get them checked out. They could be cancerous, or they may cause Hyperthyroidism.

When Thyroid Surgery is Required

One of the most common reasons for needing surgery is a growth in the head and neck area.

Thyroid cancer surgery is common.

Tumors and nodules could be cancerous or precancerous and may affect the functions of the thyroid later if they aren’t right now. They could also grow large enough to affect the throat and make swallowing and breathing difficult.

If you have Grave’s disease, your body may attack the thyroid as a foreign body, causing lots of health issues. Surgery can help ease the symptoms of Grave’s Disease if you aren’t able to keep the body’s autoimmune issues under control. Surgery can relieve the inflammation and give doctors the chance to regulate your hormones again.

It can also be used to treat Goiter for the same reasons. If the thyroid swells large enough, it can affect the functioning of the throat and cause a great deal of discomfort and potential danger.

Types of Thyroid Surgery and What to Expect

There are three basic types of thyroid surgeries, partial, total, and subtotal. Your specific type of surgery will depend on the condition and the severity of your thyroid issues.

  • Partial Thyroidectomy Procedure (Lobectomy) – For nodules and growths on your thyroid, often, it’s necessary to remove only part of the thyroid. Hyperthyroidism is sometimes treated by removing part of the thyroid to help reduce the overall amount of hormones produced.
  • Subtotal Thyroidectomy Procedure – This type of surgery essentially removes all of the thyroid itself, but leaves behind a small amount of thyroid tissue. This tissue continues to produce the hormone, helping to regulate and get your body back to normal with some support.
  • Total Thyroidectomy Procedure – If the nodules on your thyroid prove to be cancerous or cancer seems to have spread beyond the edges of the thyroid, you may have to remove the entire thing. Also, for severe cases of nodules or Goiter, a total removal may be required for the safety of the patient.

If you have a partial Thyroidectomy, your thyroid may regain functioning. With support, you could experience a normal return to functioning as the thyroid adapts to its new boundaries and begins to support your body again.

A total Thyroidectomy will eliminate the source of hormones, so you will be on hormone therapy for the rest of your life. Although it can be scary to think about being on artificial treatments, you may experience a reduction in your symptoms and gain what feels like normal functioning once again.

How to Prepare for Thyroid Surgery

Like all surgeries, your head and neck professional will give you the lowdown on how to prepare for the surgery itself. In most protocols, you’ll fast after a certain time and may be required to stay in the hospital overnight to prepare depending on the severity of the surgery.

You’ll receive a surgery assessment for anesthesia purposes and have an IV for continual fluids during the surgery. While it’s not as significant of operation as some, you’ll be put under and monitored continually throughout.

What to Expect After Thyroid Surgery

Soreness is expected after thyroid surgery, but for most patients, it’s minimal. You may receive over the counter pain medications, and you’ll be barred from strenuous activities for at least ten days. You may experience some hoarseness and some minor swelling at the incision sites.

Surgery does leave a scar, but most surgeons take precautions to minimize scarring. Incisions can go in a natural skin fold to help camouflage the incision site, and new techniques use smaller incisions overall. In addition, many use hypoallergenic stitches to reduce inflammation and encourage healing.

For most recipients, thyroid surgery causes minor discomfort, leaves practically invisible incision scars, and has a smooth recovery time.

Although there may always be unexpected complications, most people have an easy surgery and recovery time.

After the surgery, your doctor will assess the level of functioning from your remaining thyroid to begin supportive treatments. If you had your thyroid removed, the next stage is regulating the hormones through medical means.

It may take a few tries to get the support just right, but once it’s there, you can expect regular checkups while maintaining a normal life.

Thyroid FAQ

Let’s take a look at some common questions you may have about thyroid surgeries. The more you know, the better prepared you can be to advocate for your own health and wellbeing.

How Dangerous is Thyroid Surgery?

All surgeries carry risk. For most thyroid surgeries, the risks are minimal. You will have to be put under to receive surgery, but it’s usually a quick procedure with minimal recovery time.

Some risks associated with surgery in general include:

  • Reactions to anesthesia
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Infection

With all these risks, your doctors should be able to handle assessments and provide solutions. You can do your part by following presurgery orders and following recovery procedures closely to minimize the risk of infection.

Some risks associated specifically with thyroid surgery include:

  • Damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerves (the nerves closest to your vocal cords).
  • Damage to the parathyroid glands (these control calcium in your body)

These are not common but will require consideration. For those who experience hypocalcemia (low calcium), supplements can help regulate that part of your body’s functioning. Over 75% of those who experience this will also recover within the year.

Overall, thyroid surgery isn’t considered dangerous.

Most people will experience minor discomfort and short thyroid surgery recovery times, and most will be back on their feet as soon as the next day after the surgery is complete (with activity restrictions, of course).

How Long Does Thyroid Surgery Take?

To remove the entire Thyroid, your surgeon may need three to four hours to complete the surgery.

Partial Thyroidectomies take less time, but it will all vary depending on your particular set of circumstances and any complications that arise. It’s not a quick surgery, but certainly faster than many other major types of surgery.

What Are The Side Effects of Having Your Thyroid Removed?

The thyroid is a hormone regulator, so you’ll notice the effects of a reduction or elimination of the hormone with thyroid removal. Doctors maintain support through hormone therapy, but it can take some time to get the dosages precisely right.

Without the hormone, or with reduced hormones, you may notice side effects such as weight gain or a feeling of being tired. You may also notice some soreness or a change in how the throat muscles feel. For some, there’s also the risk of developing hypocalcemia, which will also require support.

With a partial thyroidectomy, your body should eventually adjust to the new thyroid production, and you may not need hormone support. With a complete procedure, blood tests will help determine the dosage for a synthetic thyroid hormone to help get your body’s processes back in order.

You may notice a hoarse voice and weak swallowing in the first hours or days after thyroid surgery. This doesn’t mean damage to your throat. It’s usually temporary side effects from incisions and the breathing tube required during surgery.

Is Thyroid Surgery Outpatient?

Most thyroid surgery requires inpatient care.

You’ll come in for surgery and stay overnight for monitoring, especially if you have issues with drainage or blood loss during the surgery itself. If you have a total thyroid gland removal, it’s more likely you’ll have inpatient surgery for monitoring.

Some surgeons have begun outpatient thyroid surgeries. Still, their availability will depend a lot on the type of surgery and whether your surgeon and hospital facilities can offer this type of surgery.

If you have a nonstandard procedure, such as a newer robotic procedure, you may also need inpatient care to check for complications. Discuss with your medical professional what’s possible, but it’s best to plan for inpatient surgery with at least a one-night hospital stay.

Can You Talk After Thyroid Surgery?

Some people experience issues with their vocal cords directly after surgery. With anesthesia that puts you under, a breathing tube is inserted into your throat to help regulate your breathing and ensure as few complications. The breathing tube can irritate your throat, causing hoarseness for a few days.

Some people may also experience weakness in their vocal cords, but this isn’t permanent. Incisions, breathing tubes, and anesthesia may cause temporary effects with your vocal cords themselves, but with rest and time, your voice will come back.

A very small number of people may experience complications during surgery because of damage to the nerves that attach to the vocal cords. If this is the case, your medical professional will work with you to find a solution to what’s happened and restore normalcy if possible. This is a highly rare occurrence, however.

Undergoing Thyroid Surgery

Thyroid surgery is common and low risk. For many of you experiencing complications with your thyroid, the effects of the operation are minor compared to the benefits of having your hormones regulated again or removing growths that are threatening your throat and causing discomfort.

It’s important to understand that with every surgery, there are risks. However, most thyroid surgeries go on without a hitch and require minimal recovery time. The medical professionals you choose to perform your surgery should be knowledgeable and willing to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

If you’re facing thyroid surgery, don’t fear. Arm yourself with the knowledge in this article to help mitigate risk and improve recovery times. Once you’ve undergone the surgery, you may find that your quality of life rises as you begin to take control of your hormones and your health once again