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Thyroid Surgery

The most common reason for thyroid surgery is the presence of nodules or tumors on the thyroid gland.

Most nodules are benign, but some can be cancerous or precancerous.

Even benign nodules can cause problems if they grow large enough to obstruct the throat, or if they stimulate the thyroid to overproduce hormones (a condition called hyperthyroidism).

Indications for surgery:

  • Surgery can correct hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is frequently the result of an autoimmune disorder called Graves’ disease.

Graves’ disease causes the body to misidentify the thyroid gland as a foreign body and send antibodies to attack it.

These antibodies inflame the thyroid, causing hormone overproduction.

  • Another reason for thyroid surgery is the swelling or enlargement of the thyroid gland. This is referred to as a goiter. Like large nodules, goiters can block the throat and interfere with eating, speaking, and breathing.

Types of thyroid surgery:

There are several different types of thyroid surgery. The most common are lobectomy, subtotal thyroidectomy, and total thyroidectomy.

Lobectomy

  • Sometimes, a nodule, inflammation, or swelling affects only half of the thyroid gland. When this happens, a doctor will remove only one of the two lobes. The part left behind should retain some or all of its function.

Subtotal thyroidectomy

  • A subtotal thyroidectomy removes the thyroid gland but leaves behind a small amount of thyroid tissue.
  • This preserves some thyroid function.
  • Many individuals who undergo this type of surgery develop hypothyroidism, a condition that occurs when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones.
  • This is treated with daily hormone supplements.

Total thyroidectomy

  • A total thyroidectomy removes the entire thyroid and the thyroid tissue.
  • This surgery is appropriate when nodules, swelling, or inflammation affect the entire thyroid gland, or when cancer is present.

Aftercare:

  • You may resume most of your normal activities the day after surgery.
  • However, wait for at least 10 days, or until your doctor gives you permission, to engage in strenuous activities such as high-impact exercise.
  • Your throat will probably feel sore for several days.
  • You may be able to take an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve the soreness.
  • If these medications don’t provide relief, your doctor may prescribe narcotic pain medication.
  • After your surgery, you may develop hypothyroidism. If this occurs, your doctor will prescribe some form of levothyroxine to help bring your hormone levels into balance. It may take several adjustments and blood tests to find the best dosage for you.

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