Why get your thyroid removed?
Your thyroid gland sits over your trachea and helps regulate your body's metabolism.
Also, your thyroid serves as a master volume control on your body's response to adrenaline.
One of the most common reasons you might have your thyroid is removed is because your doctor either has found or suspects you have thyroid cancer.
Another reason would be that you are suffering from an enlarged thyroid, and it is causing you to have a choking sensation or difficulty swallowing. You might also have your thyroid removed if you suffer from an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, and nonsurgical alternatives have failed.
Although there are other ways to treat thyroid eye disease, removing your thyroid also can alleviate the disease's symptoms, which includes bulging eyes, double vision or difficulty closing your eyes.
What happens when you get your thyroid removed?
To begin, you'll likely be placed under general anesthesia. Your surgeon will make a collar incision, right above your collar bone. The size of the incision will depend on how big your thyroid is. The surgery takes between 1 hours to 2 hours.
Your surgeon must be careful to not injure the nerve that runs behind the thyroid that controls the vocal cords or to injure the parathyroid glands, which are on the thyroid gland in your neck. They're pea-size glands that help your body regulate calcium and phosphorous. They're not always easy to avoid during surgery.
Does it hurt?
You likely will be in the hospital from one day to three days after surgery. Once you're home, the area around the incision will be sore. You should avoid exposure to the sun while your scar is healing. This will better ensure the skin doesn't get darker while healing.
What are the risk factors?
With any surgery, there's a risk of bleeding and infection. For some thyroid patients, they will bleed after surgery, and a surgeon will have to go back inside to stop the bleeding.
There's a risk that you'll experience damage to the nerves in your vocal cords. You might have problems singing and could experience a hoarse voice or coughing. Because cancer can grow beyond the thyroid and damage these nerves, this is more common among cancer patients.
Around the time of your surgery, you might suffer from an imbalance in thyroid hormone levels.
Also, your body could release too much thyroid hormone.
It's important to discuss risks with your doctor and ask any questions you might have.
What's the recovery time?
If you have a desk job, you should be able to return to work within a week. If you have a job that requires heavy lifting, your recovery time will be longer. You won't be able to lift anything for about six weeks.
You might be able to return to a light exercise routine within about a week, but you shouldn't return to a strenuous workout involving weight lifting until about six weeks.
What's the follow-up?
After surgery, your doctor will want to periodically check on you to ensure you're healing properly.
Also, most patients must take thyroid hormone pills if their entire thyroid gland was removed. You and your doctor will have to work together to determine the amount of medicine you'll take. It varies from person to person.
Source: Dr. John Muchmore, an endocrinologist at Integris Baptist Medical Center; The National Institutes of Health; the Mayo Clinic; Cleveland Clinic