Are you and your doctor discussing the possibility of thyroid surgery? If so, it is likely that you have many questions about what to expect once the procedure is completed. To help you plan for your recovery, we have gathered answers to some of the most commonly asked questions we receive from our thyroid patients—so you can be well informed, feel confident in your care, and move forward into better health.
The thyroid is a small gland that produces hormones that regulate your body’s metabolism and calcium levels. It is situated at the front of the neck, below the larynx—and it has two lobes, one on each side of your windpipe. The amount of hormone it makes must be delicately balanced. When too much or too little is released, it can cause many symptoms that are problematic for your wellness.
There are a number of dysfunctions that can occur with the thyroid, but not all of them require the full removal of the gland. A thyroidectomy (removal) is major surgery, so it is not undertaken lightly. However, tour medical provider may recommend a thyroidectomy for several reasons, including:
The first step of providing you with the individualized treatment that is best for you is testing. A fine-needle aspiration biopsy is often performed to determine if hot nodules and growths are cancerous or benign. Other tests such as ultrasounds, blood tests to determine TSH (thyroid hormone) levels, and a physical examination all help determine the next way to treat your thyroid.
If the condition of your thyroid cannot be treated with medications or is not responding to less invasive treatments, partial or complete removal of the thyroid gland (a thyroidectomy) may be necessary.
Because the removal of the thyroid is a major surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia, you should expect some temporary symptoms related to such a surgery. This includes:
Most people are able to eat and drink, with care, soon after the surgery is completed and the anesthesia has begun to wear off.
Drink plenty of water and cold liquids, especially if it is painful to swallow.
Eat foods that are gentle on your throat and stomach for a day or two. Focus on soft foods such as ice cream, pudding, yogurt, canned fruit, cooked fruit, scrambled eggs, and mashed potatoes.
Stay away from hard, scratchy foods like chips and raw vegetables. Do not drink orange juice, tomato juice, citrus, and other acidic foods that can sting the throat.
Once you are home, rest often, especially when you feel tired. Get plenty of sleep. Place two or three pillows under your head to keep it raised when you recline.
In general, you may shower the day after your surgery. You will need to take care not to get any gauze or dressing wet. Do not rub the incision area harshly.
If you have a drain inserted near your incision, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions to keep the drain clean and dry.
You may be able to resume many of your normal, light activities within a day or two. This includes walking daily to get gentle exercise and keep blood flowing.
Plan to wait a few weeks before you resume vigorous exercises such as sports or heavy lifting. Do not over-extend your neck backward for 2 weeks after surgery.
Gentle massage can help to reduce scarring, but be aware that you should let the incision heal first. Massaging can begin two weeks after your thyroidectomy.
The short answer to this question is—it depends on the procedure you have. Here’s a closer look:
If your doctor has removed only a portion of the thyroid, it is likely that the remaining portion of the gland will still continue to function well. The gland may produce sufficient thyroid hormone naturally, in which case hormone therapy might not be necessary.
If it is necessary to remove the entire thyroid, then there is no other way your body would be able to create thyroid hormone on its own. In this case, hormone replacement therapy is necessary to keep your metabolism and calcium levels within healthy ranges.
To make up for the loss of thyroid hormone after a complete thyroidectomy, your doctor will prescribe a pill of synthetic hormones. You will continue this treatment throughout your life.
You will receive regular testing to be sure your thyroid hormone levels and blood calcium levels are acceptable.
Your doctor will regularly check the remaining tissues for cancer, especially if thyroid cancer was the reason for your thyroidectomy.
Thyroid removal can be a significant medical decision, but it does not have to be overwhelming. At Midtown Surgical and Skin Institute, we provide individualized treatment that fits your specific situation, so you can get back to enjoying your life. We perform thyroid care all the time, and we are happy to provide you with a thorough consultation and answer any questions you have. Contact us to set up an appointment.