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Key facts

  • A thyroidectomy is surgery to remove all or part of your thyroid gland.
  • A thyroidectomy is used to treat goitre (an enlarged thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and thyroid cancer.
  • Thyroidectomies are usually done under general anaesthetic.

What is a thyroidectomy?

A thyroidectomy is surgery to remove all or part of your thyroid gland.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just below your Adam's apple. It uses iodine from your diet to make the hormone thyroxine.

Thyroxine controls your body's metabolism (heart rate, temperature and growth).

When is a thyroidectomy needed?

You might need part or all of your thyroid gland removed if you have:

There are various types of thyroid operations. These go from having a lump removed to taking out your whole thyroid gland.

The removal of your entire thyroid gland is called a total thyroidectomy. The removal of part of the thyroid gland is called a partial thyroidectomy or hemithyroidectomy.

How do I prepare for a thyroidectomy?

If you need to have a thyroidectomy, your doctor will usually arrange scans such as an ultrasound or CT scan. You will also usually have blood tests — for example to measure the level of thyroid hormone.

If you have a growth on your thyroid, your doctor may take a biopsy (a small sample). This is done with a fine needle and helps diagnose your condition.

Your doctor will tell you what you need to do to prepare for surgery. You will be asked to fast (not to eat) before your surgery. You may also need to stop taking certain types of medicine.

You can read more about what you need to do in healthdirect's preparing for surgery article.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

What happens during a thyroidectomy?

Thyroidectomies are usually done under general anaesthetic.

Your surgeon will make a cut in the front of your neck, 2cm to 3cm above your collar bone. They will divide your muscles so they can reach your thyroid gland.

They will be very careful not to damage the nerves to your voice box or your parathyroid glands. The parathyroid glands sit behind your thyroid and manage your body's calcium levels.

After your surgeon removes your thyroid gland, your wound is stitched to close it up.

Recovering from a thyroidectomy

After surgery, the back of your neck may be more uncomfortable than the front. This is due to where your head is during surgery. A boomerang-shaped pillow may help ease your discomfort.

You will probably be able to go home the same day or the next day.

After surgery, your doctor may prescribe thyroid replacement hormone. You will need to take this every day for the rest of your life.

If you've had a partial thyroidectomy, you may not need thyroid replacement hormone. It depends on how much of your thyroid gland is removed.

Possible complications from a thyroidectomy

A thyroidectomy is generally a safe operation. But, like any surgery, there may be complications, including:

  • reactions to the anaesthetic
  • wound infection
  • chest infection
  • blood clots
  • heart and circulation problems

Post-operative bleeding may cause your throat to swell and make it difficult to breathe. This is usually fixed by another operation.

Damage to the nerves to your voice box is rare and is normally temporary. But in up to 1 in 50 cases your voice may be permanently hoarse. In this case, you may need speech therapy or more surgery. If you are a public speaker or singer, your performing voice may permanently change.

A small number of patients have damage to the parathyroid glands. If there is any damage to your parathyroid glands you may have low calcium levels in your blood. This may need to be treated with calcium and vitamin D tablets. This usually gets better after a few weeks.

If you have a partial thyroidectomy your thyroid gland may become overactive or underactive in the future. You may need to have further treatment. This can usually be managed with medicines.

Are there any alternatives to a thyroidectomy?

Alternatives to surgery depend on what's wrong with your thyroid gland.

Medicines can be used to manage thyroid activity and radioactive iodine can also be used for some people.

Resources and support

To find out more about different types of thyroidectomies, visit healthdirect's pages on:

You can find out more about thyroid conditions at the Australian Thyroid Foundation.

Learn what you need to do to prepare for surgery.

If you want to know more about thyroidectomies, you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023

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