Your surgeon will advise you on which procedure is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. Learn about the different thyroidectomy procedures and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type for you.

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your surgeon will perform a thyroidectomy using general anesthesia. In some cases, a thyroidectomy may only require local anesthesia. 

  • General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain. 
  • Local anesthesia is also known as a nerve block. It involves injecting an anesthetic medication around certain nerves in the neck so you do not feel anything in the affected area. You will likely have sedation with local anesthesia to keep you relaxed and comfortable.

What to expect the day of your thyroidectomy

The day of your surgery, you can generally expect:

  • To talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.
  • To remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • To talk with the anesthesiologist or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will receive.
  • A surgical team member will start an IV.
  • The anesthesiologist or CRNA will start your anesthesia.
  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.
  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.

What are the risks and potential complications of a thyroidectomy?  

As with all surgeries, a thyroidectomy involves risks and possible complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.  

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing 
  • Bleeding, which can lead to shock
  • Blood clot, in particular a deep vein thrombosis that develops in the leg or pelvis. A blood clot can travel to your lungs, heart or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke.
  • Infection and septicemia, which is the spread of a local infection to the blood

Potential complications of thyroidectomy

Complications of thyroidectomy include:

  • Damage to the parathyroid glands causing problems controlling your body’s calcium levels
  • Difficulty breathing, which is a rare complication
  • Nerve damage, which can lead to permanent hoarseness, coughing, swallowing problems, problems speaking, or other voice changes
  • Nerve irritation leading to temporary voice changes, hoarseness or weakness.
  • Temporary rise in the level of thyroid hormones

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before surgery and during recovery
  • Informing your doctor if you are nursing or if there is any possibility of pregnancy
  • Notifying your doctor immediately of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, increase in pain, or wound redness, swelling or drainage 
  • Taking your medications exactly as directed 
  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies

How do I prepare for my thyroidectomy? 

You are an important member of your own healthcare team. The steps you take before surgery can improve your comfort and outcome.

You can prepare for a thyroidectomy by: