Doctor and patient discuss the patient's condition

Getting Traditional Thyroid Surgery

Thyroid Conditions

Traditional thyroid surgery is a relatively short operation and may require a short hospital stay. Your healthcare team (your surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurse) will explain what to expect.

What To Expect

Before The Surgery

If you are suffering from hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid), you may need to take (or continue to take) medications to control your hormone levels in the weeks before surgery. Surgery is safest if your thyroid hormone levels are normal at the time of the operation, but follow your healthcare professionals instructions.

Some time before surgery, you will likely have blood tests, a chest x-ray, and an electrocardiogram (ECG) to ensure you are fit for surgery. At some hospitals you may be offered a pre-operative check of your vocal cords to check they are functioning correctly and assess whether there is any increased risk of harm to them during the operation.

If it’s determined that you need surgery, you will visit a surgeon who will explain how the operation will be performed. You may be having just one lobe of your thyroid removed (a lobectomy), almost all the thyroid removed (a sub-total/near total thyroidectomy) or the entire thyroid removed (total thyroidectomy).

In preparation for surgery, you will be asked not to eat anything after the evening meal the day before your operation.

If you are having thyroid surgery because your doctor thinks you may have thyroid cancer, the surgeon may also remove some of the lymph nodes close to the thyroid. The extent of the operation in this case will not be known. Your surgeon will need to examine your thyroid and the lymph nodes during the operation in order to decide how much needs to be removed.

The anaesthetist will also explain to you how the anaesthetic will be given. In traditional thyroid surgery, you will have a general anaesthetic and will be asleep during the operation.

During The Surgery

An uncomplicated total thyroidectomy should take less than 2 hours to perform. If you are having a less extensive operation, it will be quicker. 

After The Surgery

When you awake from the anaesthesia, you will likely be in a special recovery area where the nurses can monitor you closely until you are fully awake. Small tubes going into your body will temporarily provide fluids until you can drink again, as well as drain any excess fluid from the incision area. These tubes will be removed the same day or the next day, depending on the extent of the operation and the speed of your recovery.

You will have some stitches in the incision area of your neck. These will dissolve over a few weeks. Your neck and throat will be sore and stiff for a few days. You may be given pain medicine while you’re at the hospital and to take home with you. The pain should ease and stop within a few days.

You may notice some changes to your voice, which can happen if the nerves supplying your voice box (larynx) are damaged in any way during the operation. These changes should only last a few days. You may also have a laryngoscopic examination of your vocal cords to ensure they are functioning correctly.

Your healthcare team will request that you get up and about soon after surgery – probably on the next day. You may be given exercises to help with the stiffness in your neck. You may also be given some leg and breathing exercises to make sure your circulation and lungs are working well and to help prevent any infections or blood clots after the operation.

Your Health care professional will advise when you are able to go home.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.