Your doctor may recommend thyroid surgery if you suffer from one of a number of thyroid conditions. These include goiters, thyroid nodules, Graves disease, and thyroid cancer. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid gland may be necessary. Knowing the right questions to ask your endocrinologist can help make the process easier.
1. What Type of Thyroid Surgery Do I Qualify For?
The type of surgery you need depends on the size of your thyroid and if lymph nodes need to be removed. Conventional surgery is done through an incision in the front of the neck. You may qualify for minimal access surgery if your lymph nodes aren’t involved. This endoscopic surgery uses a smaller incision which minimizes the scar.
2. Are There Any Alternatives to Surgery?
If you suffer from thyroid nodules, there may be alternatives to surgery. Non-surgical treatments include radioactive iodine (RAI) and thyroid radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Surgery is recommended when nodules are causing breathing or swallowing difficulties or if they are cancerous.
3. How Much of My Thyroid Will Be Removed?
The amount of thyroid tissue that is removed depends on the size and location of your condition. A total thyroidectomy is the removal of your entire thyroid. If only half of your thyroid needs to be removed, you will undergo a lobectomy. Your surgeon may also remove some lymph nodes around your thyroid if you have thyroid cancer.
4. How Experienced is My Thyroid Surgeon?
Your thyroid surgery may be performed by a general surgeon or an endocrine surgeon. The more experienced your surgeon is, the lower the risk of complications. Research your surgeon to find out how many thyroid surgeries they perform each year and know their complication rate. Make sure they follow the American Thyroid Association treatment guidelines.
5. What Are the Risks of My Surgery?
All surgeries come with risks. Thyroid surgery can cause infections and bleeding complications. There is a small risk of damage to the vocal cords and parathyroid gland. Damage to the vocal cords can cause a temporary or permanent change in voice or hoarseness.
Thyroid surgery that damages your parathyroid gland may result in low calcium levels. Your doctor may order blood tests to check your thyroid hormone and calcium levels after surgery. If you have low calcium levels, you may need calcium supplements.
6. Will I Be Hospitalized?
Your thyroid surgery may be performed as an outpatient procedure, or it may require you to be hospitalized for several days. This depends on your health status and the extent of your surgery. Before you are discharged after surgery, your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment to check how you are healing and for the presence of infection.
7. How Should I Prepare for Surgery?
Your surgeon will give you specific instructions to follow before your thyroid surgery. You should not eat or drink anything after midnight the evening before your surgery. Tell your doctor about all the medications and supplements you take regularly. They know what may interfere with your surgery and which are safe to continue taking.
8. What Should I Expect After Thyroid Surgery?
Your experience after thyroid surgery depends on the complexity of your treatment. If your surgery requires minimal or open access, you will have a small scar on your neck. You can ask your doctor to use a surgical technique that minimizes the appearance of your scar.
You may experience hoarseness after your surgery due to the thyroid’s proximity to your vocal cords. You may also experience mild numbness under your chin and slight swelling around the incision site. If you experience discomfort, you may need to take OTC pain relievers.
Ask your doctor about signs of serious complications to watch out for. These typically include any fever, pain, or bleeding after your surgery.
Thyroid Care with Associated Endocrinologists
If you’re dealing with a thyroid condition that may require surgery, Associated Endocrinologists can help. Our team of Board Certified Endocrinologists has been treating thyroid patients in Michigan since 1984.
We’re happy to discuss your thyroid condition and treatment options through our in-person and telehealth video appointments. Contact us today to schedule a visit.