You had surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid gland. This operation is called thyroidectomy.
You probably spent 1 to 3 days in the hospital.
A speech pathologist may have shown you exercises to make your vocal cords stronger. A dietitian may have helped you plan meals for the first few days after your surgery.
What to Expect at Home
You may have a drain with a bulb coming from your incision. This drain removes any blood or other fluids that might build up in this area.
You may have some pain and soreness in your neck at first, especially when you swallow. Your voice may be a little hoarse for the first week. You will probably be able to start your everyday activities in just a few weeks.
If you had thyroid cancer, you may need to have radioactive iodine treatment soon.
Get plenty of rest when you get home. Keep your head raised while you are sleeping for the first week.
Managing Your Pain
Your doctor may have prescribed a narcotic pain medicine. Or, you may take over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Take your pain medicines the way your health care provider told you to.
You may put a cold compress on your surgical cut for 20 minutes at a time to ease pain and swelling. DO NOT put the ice directly on your skin. Wrap the compress or ice in a towel. Keep the area dry.
- The incision was covered with skin glue, you may shower with soap the day after surgery. Pat the area dry.
- Your incision was covered with tape, put plastic wrap over the area while you shower for the first week. The tape will fall off in a few weeks.
- Your incision was closed with stitches, ask your surgeon when you can shower.
- You have a drainage bulb, empty it 2 times a day. Keep track of the amount of fluid you empty each time. Your surgeon will tell you when it is time to remove the drain.
- You have dressings over the wound area, change them the way your nurse showed you.
Your Diet During Recovery
You can eat whatever you like after surgery. Try to eat healthy foods. You may find it hard to swallow at first. If so, it may be easier to drink liquids and eat soft foods such as pudding, Jello, mashed potatoes, apple sauce, and yogurt.
Pain medicines can cause constipation. Eating high-fiber foods and drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water a day will help make your stools softer. If this does not help, try using a fiber product such as Metamucil. You can buy this at a drug store.
Give yourself time to heal. DO NOT do any strenuous activities, such as heavy lifting, jogging, or swimming for the first few weeks.
Slowly start your normal activities when you feel ready. DO NOT drive if you are taking narcotic pain medicines.
Cover your incision with clothing or very strong sunscreen when you are in the sun for the first year after surgery. This will make your scar show less.
Thyroid Hormone Replacement
You may need to take thyroid hormone medicine for the rest of your life to replace your natural thyroid hormone.
You may not need hormone replacement if only part of your thyroid was removed.
See your doctor for regular blood tests and to go over your symptoms. Your doctor will change the dosage of your hormone medicine based on your blood tests and symptoms.
You may not start thyroid hormone replacement right away, especially if you had thyroid cancer.
You will probably see your surgeon in about 2 weeks after surgery. If you have stitches or a drain, your surgeon will remove them.
You may need long-term care from an endocrinologist for regular blood tests. An endocrinologist is a doctor who treats problems with glands and hormones.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your surgeon or nurse if you have:
- Increased soreness or pain around your incision
- Redness or swelling of your incision
- Bleeding from your incision
- Fever of 100.5°F (38°C), or higher
- Chest pain or discomfort
- A weak voice
- Difficulty eating
- A lot of coughing
- Numbness or tingling in your face or lips
Total thyroidectomy - discharge; Partial thyroidectomy - discharge; Thyroidectomy - discharge; Subtotal thyroidectomy - discharge
Lai SY, Mandel SJ, Weber RS. Management of thyroid neoplasms. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund VJ, et al., eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2015:chap 123.
Smith PW, Salomone LJ, Hanks JB. Thyroid. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 38.
Update Date 3/13/2015
Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.