Ear, Nose & Throat

Thyroid Surgery Recovery – What to Expect

Fri, Nov 03, 2023

Thyroid Surgery Recovery – What to Expect

Thyroid surgery removes part or all of the thyroid, a gland in the neck. You might need this surgery if you have thyroid cancer, a potentially cancerous nodule, or a nodule causing symptoms. Thyroid surgery recovery time varies by individual, but most patients resume normal activities within a few weeks or less.

How Long Does Thyroid Surgery Take?

The duration of thyroid surgery depends on the extent of the procedure and any complicating factors. It typically takes between 45 minutes and three hours. During a conventional thyroidectomy, the surgeon makes an incision in the neck to remove all or portions of the thyroid. If you have cancer, the surgeon may also remove nearby lymph nodes.

What to Expect During Thyroid Surgery Recovery

While some patients can be discharged on the day of their surgery, it isn’t uncommon to spend one night in the hospital. Most patients are ready to get up, walk around, and eat and drink either the day of or the day following their procedure.

Expect to have some side effects as you recover. These can include:

  • Neck stiffness
  • A hoarse voice
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Mild swelling and drainage in the wound
  • Pain in the neck and around the incision, similar to having a sore throat

Most patients need only over-the-counter medications to manage their pain in recovery. You might also need to eat soft foods or limit yourself to liquids for a few days to help increase your comfort.

During some procedures, it is necessary to remove the parathyroid glands, which regulate calcium levels. Your doctor may want to monitor your calcium levels or suggest a supplement.

How Long Does It Take to Heal After Thyroid Surgery?

Complete healing can take a few weeks, but most people have healed enough within a few days to resume normal activities. Consider taking at least a week off work to recover. Most of the effects of your surgery, like pain and swelling, resolve within two to three weeks, but your voice could remain horse for a few months.

Will I Have a Thyroid Surgery Scar?

A scar is an inevitable part of most surgeries, and it could take up to a year for yours to heal and fade significantly. Most surgeons can position the incision within a fold in the neck skin to minimize its visibility.

You might also be eligible for a newer type of procedure called transoral thyroidectomy. In this procedure, surgeons use an incision inside the mouth instead of the neck, so there is no external scarring.

If you have a scar on your neck, you can take steps to make it less prominent:

  • Keep it well moisturized
  • Apply vitamin E to the scar
  • Avoid exposing the area to the sun for about six months
  • Ask your surgeon about special tapes that help minimize scars

If you need thyroid surgery, recovery is an important consideration. Talk to your surgeon about what to expect and what you can do to support a quick and healthy recovery. Contact the ENT surgical specialists at North Carolina Specialty Hospital to discuss your options if you have thyroid symptoms or a thyroid condition.

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