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Child thyroid anatomy
Child thyroid anatomy

Thyroidectomy - series
Thyroidectomy - series


Thyroid gland removal is surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid gland. Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that lies over your trachea (the tube that carries air to your lungs). It is just below your voice box.

  • Total thyroidectomy removes the entire gland.
  • Subtotal or partial thyroidectomy removes part of the thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system. It helps your body regulate your metabolism .

Alternative Names:

Total thyroidectomy; Partial thyroidectomy; Thyroidectomy; Subtotal thyroidectomy


You will probably receive general anesthesia (asleep and pain-free) for this surgery. Or you may receive local anesthesia and medicine to relax you. You will be awake but pain-free.

Your surgeon may do the procedure through an incision (cut) in your neck.

  • Your surgeon will make a 3-inch to 4-inch incision in your neck and will find your thyroid gland. Your surgeon will remove all or part of the gland.
  • Your surgeon will be very careful not to damage the blood vessels and nerves in your neck.
  • Your surgeon may place a small catheter (tube) into the area to help drain blood and other fluids that build up. The drain will be removed in 1 or 2 days.
  • Surgery to remove your whole thyroid will take up to 4 hours. It will take about 2 hours to remove half of it.

Your surgeon may use an endoscope to remove your thyroid.

  • In this procedure, you will have 3 or 4 small incisions. Your surgeon will insert a tiny camera through one incision and small tools through the others ones.
  • Your surgeon will use the camera to see the area and will remove your thyroid with the tools.

Why the Procedure Is Performed:

Your doctor may recommend thyroid removal if you have:

  • Cancer of the thyroid
  • Benign (non-cancerous) tumors of the thyroid
  • A small thyroid nodule or cyst
  • A thyroid gland that is so overactive it is dangerous (Thyrotoxicosis )
  • Thyroid swelling (nontoxic goiter ) that makes it hard for you to breathe or swallow

You may also have surgery if you have hyperthyroidism , do not want to have radioactive iodine treatment, and cannot be treated with anti-thyroid medicines.


Risks for any anesthesia are:

Risks for any surgery are:

Risks for thyroid removal are:

  • Injury to the nerves in your vocal cord. You may have a weaker voice or a hard time swallowing thin liquids after surgery.
  • Difficulty breathing. This is very rare. It almost always goes away several weeks or months after surgery.
  • Bleeding and possible airway obstruction
  • A sharp rise in thyroid hormone levels
  • Injury to the nerves to your vocal cords and larynx. This injury can cause weakness or even paralysis on one side of your voice box and larynx. When this happens, you may have problems reaching high notes when you sing, hoarseness, coughing, swallowing problems, or problems speaking. These problems may be mild or severe.
  • Injury to the parathyroid glands (small glands near the thyroid) or to their blood supply. This can cause low levels of calcium in your blood (hypocalcemia ).

Before the Procedure:

You may need to have tests that show exactly where your thyroid gland is. This will help your surgeon find your thyroid during surgery. Some of the tests you may have are a CT scan , ultrasound , or other special imaging tests.

You may also need thyroid medicine or iodine treatments 1 to 2 weeks before your surgery.

Before surgery, an anesthesiologist will review your medical history with you and decide what type of anesthesia to use. The anesthesiologist is the doctor who will give you the medicine that makes you asleep and pain-free during surgery and who monitors you during surgery.

Fill any prescriptions for pain medicine and calcium you will need after surgery.

Several days to a week before surgery, you may be asked to stop taking drugs that make it harder for your blood to clot. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), and other drugs like these.

You will probably be asked to stop eating or drinking at least 6 hours before surgery.

Ask your doctor which medicines you should still take the day of surgery.

If you smoke, try to stop. Your recovery time will be shorter if you do not smoke. Ask your doctor or nurse for help.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.

After the Procedure:

You will probably go home the day after surgery. But you may spend up to 3 days in the hospital. You must be able to swallow liquids before you go home.

Your doctor will probably check the calcium level in your blood after surgery. This is done more often when the whole thyroid gland is removed.

Outlook (Prognosis):

The outcome of this surgery is usually excellent. Most people will need to take thyroid hormone pills (thyroid hormone replacement) for the rest of their lives.


Hanks JB, Salomone LJ. Thyroid. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2008:chap 36.

Review Date: 1/30/2009
Reviewed By: Robert A. Cowles, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100