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Three complications of thyroid removal you need to know about

Thyroid surgery is a broad term covering any type of operation on the thyroid gland.  This is an organ shaped like a butterfly which sits at the front of your neck, producing hormones that maintain your metabolism.  Almost all thyroid surgery involves some type of thyroid removal, also called a thyroidectomy.  There are two main types of thyroid removal: a total thyroidectomy and a hemithyroidectomy. In a total thyroidectomy, your whole thyroid gland is removed, whereas in a hemithyroidectomy only about one half of it is removed.

Thyroid surgery is done by endocrine surgeons.  These are surgeons who have specialised in operating on organs which produce hormones such as the thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas and adrenal glands.  This means that the doctor carrying out the thyroid surgery will have years of experience in thyroid removal and be able to minimise any risks.  They are able to discuss what type of surgery is best for you and what your unique concerns are. While your surgeon will discuss risks in detail before gaining your consent for the surgery here are three of the most important complications of thyroid surgery, especially thyroid removal.


If all or most of your thyroid gland is removed you may end up hypothyroid.  This means that you don't have enough healthy thyroid tissue remaining to make thyroid hormone or thyroxine. If this occurs you may need to take a small pill containing artificial thyroxine to keep your metabolism working at an appropriate rate.  Some people are hyperthyroid prior to thyroid removal, meaning they are producing too much thyroxine.  Whether your thyroxine levels were normal or high prior to the surgery, they'll be carefully monitored afterwards.  Hypothyroidism is expected after a total thyroidectomy but uncommon after a hemithyroidectomy or other thyroid surgery.

Damage to your parathyroid glands

Your parathyroid glands are small glands the size of a lentil or grain of rice.  They sit next to your thyroid gland and produce parathyroid hormone, which controls the level of minerals such as calcium, phosphate and magnesium in your blood.  Because of the close proximity of your thyroid and parathyroid glands, thyroid removal can sometimes damage the parathyroid glands or lead to them being removed.  This rarely means you won't have enough parathyroid hormone being produced and may need extra calcium.  After your thyroid surgery, you'll have a simple blood test to check on the levels of calcium in your blood which will tell your surgeon if the parathyroid glands have been damaged.

Voice changes

An important nerve called the recurrent laryngeal nerve runs alongside your thyroid. Damage to one side of this nerve can cause your voice to change, becoming more hoarse.  Prior to your operation, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon will use a small camera to look at your vocal cords to make sure they're working well.  After the operation, your voice will be monitored and you'll be sent back to the ENT surgeon to check your vocal cords are still working as well as they were before. Only about 2% of people who have thyroid removal suffer this complication.

For more information, speak with doctors like Jane Harding Endocrine Surgeon.