What to expect after thyroid surgery
After thyroid surgery, you will probably stay in hospital for one or two nights to recover from surgery. Your neck wound will be closed with stitches, adhesive strips or small clips.
Your nursing team will talk to you about how to care for your surgical wound site once you go home to prevent it becoming infected. The surgeon may arrange blood tests to check on your recovery.
Most people who have thyroid surgery will feel better within 1–2 weeks, but recovery may take longer for some people.
For more on this, see What to expect after thyroid cancer.
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What to expect after thyroid surgery
You will probably feel some pain or discomfort where the cut was made. You will be given pain medicines to manage this. The position you are placed in for surgery can sometimes give you a stiff neck and back. This is temporary, and neck massage and physiotherapy may help loosen the muscles in your neck. You can also try using a triangle-shaped pillow to support your neck after surgery and/or ask for pain medicine.
Sometimes thyroid surgery affects the nerves to the voice box, which can make your voice sound hoarse or weak. This is often temporary and improves with time. Your singing voice may be affected. This is often temporary, but sometimes it is permanent. Most patients complain their voice gets tired after thyroid surgery, but this is usually temporary.
|Eating and drinking|
Most people start eating and drinking within a few hours after the operation. To help your body recover from surgery, you need to be well nourished. Try to eat small amounts of healthy, nutritious food. For more on this, see Nutrition and cancer.
You will find it painful to swallow for a few days. Try to eat soft foods that are easy to swallow. Swallowing can feel stiff for a few months, but usually gradually improves.
You will have a horizontal scar on your neck above the collarbone. In most cases, the scar is about 5–7 cm long and is often in a natural skin crease. At first, this scar will look red, but it should fade and become less noticeable with time. Your doctor may recommend using special tape on the scar to help it heal. Keep the area moisturised to help the scar fade more quickly over time. Ask your pharmacist or doctor to recommend a suitable cream.
Most people return to their usual activities within a week, but some people need more time to recover. You will most likely need to avoid heavy lifting, vigorous exercise (such as running) and turning your neck quickly for a couple of weeks after surgery.
Changes in hormone levels may affect your mood. If you feel anxious or have panic attacks, let your doctor or nurse know as they may recommend medicines to help. Some people find meditation or relaxation techniques helpful.
|Low calcium levels|
You may have low blood calcium levels (hypocalcaemia) if surgery affects the parathyroid glands. This may cause headaches and tingling in your hands, feet and lips, as well as muscle cramps. Your doctor will do blood tests to check your calcium levels, and you may be prescribed vitamin D and/or calcium supplements until your parathyroid glands recover. If the parathyroid glands don’t recover, vitamin D and/or calcium supplements need to be taken permanently. Calcium supplements should be taken at least two hours after your thyroid hormone replacement tablets.
Further treatment after surgery
All tissue removed during the surgery is examined for cancer cells by a pathologist. The results will help confirm the type of cancer you have and determine whether you will require further treatment.
A/Prof Diana Learoyd, Endocrinologist, Northern Cancer Institute, and Northern Clinical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Dr Gabrielle Cehic, Nuclear Medicine Physician and Oncologist, South Australia Medical Imaging (SAMI), and Senior Staff Specialist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA; Dr Kiernan Hughes, Endocrinologist, Northern Endocrine and St Vincents Hospital, NSW; Yvonne King, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Christine Lai, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Breast and Endocrine Surgical Unit, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Surgery, University of Adelaide, SA; A/Prof Nat Lenzo, Nuclear Physician and Specialist in Internal Medicine, Group Clinical Director, GenesisCare Theranostics, and The University of Western Australia, WA; Ilona Lillington, Clinical Nurse Consultant (Thyroid and Brachytherapy), Cancer Care Services, Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital, QLD; Jonathan Park, Consumer.
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