What is a thyroidectomy?

 A thyroidectomy is the general name of any surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid. Other specific types are1:

  • lobectomy or hemithyroidectomy – when half of the thyroid is removed
  • near-total thyroidectomy – when most of the thyroid is removed but some tissue is left
  • isthmusectomy – when the central part of the thyroid called the isthmus is removed


Why is it done?

 This type of surgery is carried out for a number of reasons, including:

How much of the thyroid is removed depends on the underlying condition, and other treatment may be recommended before, alongside or after surgery.1


What happens during a thyroidectomy?

 The time it takes depends on the type of surgery, but all thyroidectomies are performed under general anaesthetic.2

Some patients need to take iodine or potassium medication to help regulate the thyroid and decrease the chance of bleeding.3  You will probably need to avoid eating and drinking before the operation to prevent vomiting.4

There are three ways for surgeons to get to the thyroid:5,6

  1. conventional thyroidectomy – where they make a small cut (incision) in the front of the neck to look at the thyroid. They make the cut in a place where the scar will be less visible.
  2. endoscopic thyroidectomy – where they insert a small camera and surgical tools through a smaller cut in the neck
  3. transoral thyroidectomy – where they get to the thyroid through a small cut in the mouth

Surgeons try to leave as much of the thyroid as possible to keep it functioning but relieve any symptoms.7 In some cases of thyroid cancer, nearby lymph glands are removed during surgery too as a precaution or if the cancer has spread.6

As with most surgeries, there are risks of complications, such as bleeding, infection and nerve damage, but this is estimated to be 1 to 2 in 100.7

If vocal cord nerves are damaged, there’s a 5% chance of hoarseness for up to six months, and a 1% chance that it’s permanent.8

Sometimes the small glands behind the thyroid, called parathyroid glands, can be damaged. They regulate calcium in the body, and damage may mean taking calcium supplements. Usual symptoms of this are tingling in the hands, fingers or around the mouth after surgery.2

Some people need a drain to get rid of fluid after surgery and patients are generally advised to not put any strain on their neck for two weeks. There may be a small scar on the neck once the stitches are removed or have dissolved.2,6  This may be red and thick for a few months and can take from 6 months to a year to heal properly.2

Thyroid surgery is usually safe and surgeons take special care around the nerves, veins and arteries.2

However, an extremely rare complication is called a thyroid storm.  This is due to excessive amounts of thyroid hormones being released during the operation and can be caused by people with hyperthyroidism not receiving appropriate medication before their operation.

The symptoms are:

  • fever
  • weakness
  • palpitations
  • changes in mental status
  • coma

Death from thyroid storm is 20-30% of people but it is to be stressed that this is extremely rare.2


Testing after operation

 It is usual to have a blood test to check your thyroid function after surgery to see if you need any levothyroxine.  If you had a total thyroidectomy you will be given levothyroxine soon after your operation and will need to take this for life.2

People with thyroid cancer often have a course of radioactive iodine treatment or radiotherapy after surgery. This is to get rid of any rogue cancer cells that might be left.9



What happens after a thyroidectomy depends on how much of the thyroid gland is removed. When only part of it is removed, it may continue to function as normal without medication but it may not. Regular thyroid function tests may need to be done, especially if you start to get symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism can occur immediately after a thyroidectomy but only for a short while or it can occur several months afterwards depending on the amount of thyroid tissue that was removed. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people will develop hypothyroidism after a partial thyroidectomy.10,11


Check out what people are saying on our online community about thyroidectomies:


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2016 – Oxford University Trust NHS Foundation Trust: Thyroidectomy – an operation to remove all or part of the thyroid gland – Information for patients

2015 – The American Thyroid Association Guidelines Task Force on Thyroid Nodules and Differentiated Thyroid Cancer

2014 – NICE Guidance: Minimally invasive video-assisted thyroidectomy – Interventional procedures guidance [IPG499]



Dissolve – break down

General anaesthetic – when you are put to sleep for surgery

Goitre – when the thyroid gland swells and causes a lump at the front of the neck

Hypothyroidism  – a term used to describe an under-active thyroid gland

Hyperthyroidism – a term used to describe an over-active thyroid gland

Incision – when a cut is made

Iodine – chemical element

Levothyroxine – a synthetic thyroid hormone commonly used to treat an underactive thyroid. It’s also known as L-thyroxine or thyroxine

Nodules – a growth of abnormal tissue

Palpitations – a noticeably rapid, strong or irregular heartbeat due to agitation, exertion or illness



  1. Thyroid Surgery
    American Thyroid Association
  2. Thyroidectomy – an operation to remove all or part of the thyroid gland – Information for patients
    Radu Miha, Consultant in Endocrine Surgery: January 2016
    Oxford University Trust NHS Foundation Trust
  3. Hyperthyroidism
    University of California San Francisco (UCSF)–procedures/hyperthyroidism.aspx
  4. Can I eat or drink before an operation?
  5. Interventional procedure overview of minimally invasive video-assisted thyroidectomy/parathyroidectomy
    NICE: June 2014
  6. Thyroidectomy
    Mayo Clinic
  7. Goitre Treatment
  8. Thyroidectomy
    University of California San Francisco (UCSF)–procedures/thyroidectomy.aspx
  9. Thyroid Cancer Treatment
  10. Clinical features of early and late Postoperative Hypothyroidism after Lobectomy
    Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
    J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Apr 1;102(4):1317-1324. doi: 10.1210/jc.2016-3597
  11. Risk of Hypothyroidism following Hemithyroidectomy: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prognostic Studies
    Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 97, Issue 7, 1 July 2012


Date created: 19/03/2020 (V1.1)
Review date:  19/03/2022