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What is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid gland is located at the base of your neck, and is shaped like a butterfly. This gland consists of two lobes, one on each side of the throat, connected together with the isthmus.

Hormones produced by the thyroid glands are:

  • T3 - triiodothyronine
  • T4 - thyroxine
  • Calcitonin
These hormones regulate the body's metabolism and the balance of calcium.

What is a thyroidectomy?

A thyroidectomy is the removal of the thyroid gland. This procedure is performed to treat thyroid disorders such as:

  • Hyperthyroidism - the thyroid gland produces more thyroxine than needed. It can also be managed with medication.
  • Goiter - surgery is needed if you have a large goiter, which causes difficulty breathing, swallowing and hyperthyroidism.
  • Thyroid cancer - a total thyroidectomy is typically performed.

A thyroidectomy can be partial or total. During a total thyroidectomy the entire thyroid gland is removed, while a partial thyroidectomy involves the removal of only one part of the gland - like one lobe of the gland.

Thyroidectomy is generally a safe procedure, but like any other surgery, it has some risks - both because of the operation itself, and the general anesthesia that is typically used. The risks of thyroidectomy are:

  • An allergic reaction to the medicine used for anesthesia
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Airway obstruction
  • Damage to the laryngeal nerve
  • Damage to the part of the thyroid gland that is not removed during surgery (if a partial thyroidectomy is performed)
  • Damage to the parathyroid glands

What to expect after the surgery?

A drain is always placed under the incision in your neck. This will be removed soon after surgery. It is normal to feel some neck pain for a couple of days, but eventually it will get better. Your doctor will probably prescribe pain killers.

You may also have a weak or hoarse voice, but this doesn't mean that the vocal cords are damaged during the surgery. These symptoms are often temporary.

You will probably be in hospital a couple of days after the surgery, and it might take a week or two before you will recover to the point that you can resume your normal activities.

You probably won't need supplementary medication after a partial thyroidectomy, because the remaining part of the thyroid gland takes over the function.

Patients who have undergone a total thyroidectomy will need thyroid hormone therapy for the rest of their life. Blood test results will determine how much medication you need. You can generally expect to take one pill every day, which contains the synthetic thyroid hormone - Levothyroxine.

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