Thyroid Surgery

What is Thyroid surgery?

Thyroid surgery is an operation to remove part or all of the thyroid gland. It is performed in the hospital, and general anesthesia is usually required. Typically the operation removes the lobe of the thyroid gland containing the lump and possibly the isthmus. A frozen section (an immediate microscopic reading) may or may not be used to determine if the rest of the thyroid gland should be removed.


Sometimes, based on the result of the frozen section, the surgeon may decide not to remove any additional thyroid tissue, or proceed to remove the entire thyroid gland, and/or other tissue in the neck. This is a decision usually made in the operating room by the surgeon, based on findings at the time of surgery. Your surgeon will discuss these options with you preoperatively.

There may be times when the definite microscopic answer cannot be determined until several days after surgery. If a malignancy is identified in this way, your surgeon may recommend that the remaining lobe of the thyroid be removed at a second procedure. If you have specific questions about thyroid surgery, ask your otolaryngologist and he or she will answer them in detail.

What happens after thyroid surgery?

During the first 24 hours:

After surgery, you may have a drain (a tiny piece of plastic tubing), which prevents fluid and blood from building up in the wound. This is removed after the fluid accumulation has stabilized, usually within 24 hours after surgery. Most patients are discharged later the same day or the day following the procedure.

Complications are rare but may include:
  • bleeding
  • a hoarse voice
  • difficulty swallowing
  • numbness of the skin on the neck
  • vocal cord paralysis
  • low blood calcium

At home:

Following the procedure, if it is determined that you need to take any medication, your surgeon will discuss this with you, prior to your discharge.

Medications may include:
  • thyroid hormone replacement
  • calcium and/or vitamin D replacement

Some symptoms may not become evident for two or three days after surgery. If you experience any of the following, call your surgeon:
  • numbness and tingling around the lips and hands
  • increasing pain
  • fever
  • swelling
  • wound discharge

If a malignancy is identified, thyroid replacement medication may be withheld for several weeks. This allows a radioactive scan to better detect any remaining microscopic thyroid tissue, or spread of malignant cells to lymph nodes or other sites in the body.

This information is provided by the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, Inc., (AAO-HNS) and the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, Inc. (AAO-HNSF) for educational purposes only. Any information provided in this website should not be considered medical advice or a substitute for a consultation with an Otolaryngologist - Head and Neck surgeon or other physician.

Associated Conditions
Salivary Glands Thyroid Disorders

Associated Technologies

NOTE: This information is not intended to substitute for a consultation with your physician. It is offered to educate the patient and his or her family on the basis of otolaryngology conditions in order to get the most out of their office visits and consultations. Please see our disclaimer for additional information