What you can expect

Before the procedure

Surgeons typically perform thyroidectomy during general anesthesia, so you won't be conscious during the procedure. The anesthesiologist or anesthetist gives you an anesthetic medication as a gas — to breathe through a mask — or injects a liquid medication into a vein. A breathing tube will then be placed in your trachea to assist breathing throughout the procedure.

The surgical team places several monitors on your body to help make sure that your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen remain at safe levels throughout the procedure. These monitors include a blood pressure cuff on your arm and heart-monitor leads attached to your chest.

During the procedure

Once you're unconscious, the surgeon makes a small incision in the center of your neck or a series of incisions some distance from the thyroid, depending on the surgical technique he or she uses. All or part of the thyroid gland is then removed, depending on the reason for the surgery.

If you're having thyroidectomy as a result of thyroid cancer, the surgeon may also examine and remove lymph nodes around your thyroid. Thyroidectomy usually takes a few hours.

There are three main approaches to thyroidectomy:

  • Conventional thyroidectomy involves making an incision in the center of your neck to directly access your thyroid gland.
  • Endoscopic thyroidectomy uses smaller incisions in the neck. Surgical instruments and a small video camera are inserted through the incisions. The camera guides your surgeon through the procedure.
  • Robotic thyroidectomy is performed either through incisions in the chest and armpit or via an incision high in the neck. The robotic approach allows a thyroidectomy to be performed while avoiding an incision in the center of your neck.

After the procedure

After surgery, you're moved to a recovery room where the health care team monitors your recovery from the surgery and anesthesia. Once you're fully conscious, you'll be moved to a hospital room.

You may have a drain under the incision in your neck. This drain is usually removed the morning after surgery.

After a thyroidectomy, you may experience neck pain and a hoarse or weak voice. This doesn't necessarily mean there's permanent damage to the nerve that controls your vocal cords. These symptoms are often temporary and may be due to irritation from the breathing tube (endotracheal tube) that's inserted into your windpipe (trachea) during surgery, or as a result of nerve irritation caused by the surgery.

You'll be able to eat and drink as usual after surgery. Depending on the type of surgery you had, you may be able to go home the day of your procedure or your doctor may recommend you stay overnight in the hospital.

When you go home, you can usually return to your regular activities. Wait at least 10 days to two weeks before doing anything vigorous, such as heavy lifting or strenuous sports.