Thyroid gland surgery

What is thyroid gland surgery?

Thyroid gland surgery is a treatment for a number of thyroid problems. The thyroid gland sits in the neck and secretes hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism. For conditions that affect the gland, thyroid gland surgery is the recommended treatment and all or part of the thyroid may be removed. The procedure is known as a thyroidectomy.

Why would you do it?

Thyroid problems are common. There are a number of conditions that can arise with the thyroid gland and many of them can be treated with medication. In some cases however, thyroid gland surgery is recommended to treat a range of conditions that affect the gland, including cancer, Grave’s disease, recurrent cysts or goitres (swelling due to an enlarged thyroid gland) that are problematic.

What does it involve?

The procedure usually involves removing all or a portion of the thyroid. A total thyroidectomy would involve removing the whole gland, whilst a lobectomy is the removal of half of the gland. Sometimes an isthmusectomy is performed to remove the central part of the gland.

The portion of the thyroid that is to be removed will depend on the nature and extent of the condition.

There are three main types of surgery. Conventional surgery involves making an incision in the neck through which all or the required portion of the thyroid is removed. Endoscopic thyroid surgery involves the use of video cameras inserted through small incisions to guide the surgeon performing the operation. In more recent times, a robotic thyroidectomy has been used, which allows the operation to be performed through incisions in the chest or armpit, avoiding incisions in the middle of the neck.

In all cases, thyroid gland surgery will be carried out under a general anaesthetic.

How to prepare for it

As with any operation, a patient will be assessed for their suitability beforehand. Patients may also be required to stop eating for a period before surgery.

Post-operative care

In most cases, it is possible to leave the hospital in a few days. It is important to avoid putting strain on the neck for a few weeks following the operation.

Neck pain and voice problems are not uncommon but usually resolve by themselves.  In the case of a total thyroidectomy, where the whole thyroid gland is removed, the patient will need to take medication to compensate for the hormone usually produced by the gland itself. For a partial thyroidectomy, the remaining portion of the thyroid will often compensate for the entire gland over time and medication may not be needed. 

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