Surgeons are now able to use advanced techniques to operate on the thyroid gland. This surgery is done through a very small incision that can be made some distance from the gland, like under the armpit or in the chest area. The surgeon can be guided in the operation using an endoscope. Your surgeon will discuss which options are available to you, depending on your needs, the surgeon’s experience, and the equipment available at the hospital. Not all people are eligible for a minimally invasive approach.
Whichever surgical method is used, the blood supply to the gland is "tied off" (stopped). The surgeon then separates the trachea (wind pipe) from the thyroid and then removes all or part of the gland.
During the operation, the surgeon will take great care to identify and avoid damaging the nerves to the voice box that are found just behind the thyroid gland. Injuring these nerves can severely affect the ability to speak, swallow, or breathe. Use of a NIM® Nerve Integrity Monitoring System from Medtronic can help the surgeon identify these nerves, monitor them, and confirm they have not been damaged during surgery.
The surgeon will also take care to identify and preserve the four small parathyroid glands that lie next to the thyroid gland. These four very small glands produce a hormone called parathormone, which controls calcium levels in the blood.
The principal benefit of thyroid surgery is that it should relieve some or all of the symptoms that you may have been experiencing.
The main benefits of a minimally invasive approach is that there is less pain after the operation, recovery is faster, and the resulting scar is much smaller than with the traditional approach.
Be sure to ask your doctor for a detailed explanation of the benefits and risks of the surgery, as well as his or her experience performing this kind of procedure. As with all surgery, there are possible complications that may occur during or following thyroid surgery.2
Thyroid hormone-replacement: Depending on how much of your thyroid gland is removed, it is likely that you will need some form of thyroid hormone replacement therapy after surgery.
Hypoparathyroidism: The parathyroid glands, which are located very close to the thyroid gland, control your body's calcium levels. If the parathyroids are damaged during surgery, this can cause temporary or (rarely) permanent shutdown. This results in a lowered calcium level, called hypocalcemia. Temporary hypoparathyroidism affects about 7% of people. Symptoms of hypoparathyroidism, which usually appear in the first few days after surgery and last for about a week, may include:
These symptoms are treated with calcium tablets.
Laryngeal nerve damage: The nerves that control your voice (laryngeal nerves) pass very close to the thyroid. There is a risk that they may be damaged during surgery. This is estimated to happen in about 1 out of every 250 thyroid surgeries.1 This damage is likely to be temporary and can cause changes to the voice such as:
Usually, permanent changes are rare and the voice will return to normal within a few weeks. To help reduce the risk of nerve damage during surgery, Medtronic developed the NIM® Nerve Integrity Monitoring System. During minimally invasive or traditional thyroid surgery, the NIM system enables surgeons to identify the nerves at risk, monitor nerve function, and confirm the nerves are undamaged.
If there is a change in nerve function, the NIM system provides visual and audible warnings to alert the surgeon and operating room staff. Use of Medtronic’s NIM System helps reduce the risk of nerve damage during surgery, improving safety and peace-of-mind for patients and surgeons.
General risks of surgery: As with all surgery, there is a risk of bleeding after the operation, as well as some risk from anesthesia and possible infection. Be sure to ask your doctor about potential complications from your procedure.
Thomusch O, Sekulla C, Walls G,. Intraoperative neuromonitoring of surgery for benign goiter. Am J Surg. 2002 Jun;183(6):673-8.
Perigli G. Clinical benefits of minimally invasive techniques in thyroid surgery. World J Surg. 2008-Jan;32(1):45-50.
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.