Thyroid removal is a common form of surgery performed to resolve problems with the thyroid gland. Technically it’s known as a thyroidectomy and although complications are possible, it’s generally considered very safe.
The goal of a thyroidectomy is to remove some, or all, of the thyroid. You would normally need this done because you have thyroid cancer, a goitre or an overactive thyroid. You might also need thyroid surgery if the gland causes an obstruction of the oesophagus or windpipe, or if it’s very enlarged.
But what is the thyroid, and why thyroid removal? The thyroid is a gland, part of the endocrine system, located in the base of the neck. The endocrine system includes such glands as the pineal, the pituitary and the adrenal. Together these glands secrete hormones that provide balance to the body’s internal systems.
Why would thyroid removal be needed?
The job of the thyroid, specifically, is to produce three hormones: calcitonin, triiodothyronine and thyroxine. The first of these, calcitonin, is ancillary to the thyroid’s main purpose; it limits the amount of calcium in the blood. The other two do the thyroid’s big work, regulating metabolism, energy use and protein creation.
Thyroid removal may be required in cases where the thyroid malfunctions or there is an external problem with the gland. External issues include cancerous growths and goitres, as well as obstructions to swallowing and breathing that can be caused by abnormal thyroids. Cancer is the most common reason for thyroid surgery.
The most common form of thyroid malfunction leading to thyroidectomy is known as hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. In this relatively common condition, the thyroid is overstimulated and produces too much triiodothyronine and thyroxine. This leads to problems with metabolism, energy, protein generation and other bodily systems.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include muscle weakness, increased appetite, neck goitres, irritability, diarrhoea, weight loss, profuse sweating, bulging eyes, problems sleeping, heat sensitivity and heart palpitations. The usual cause is an autoimmune disorder known as Graves’ disease, though there are others.
Find out what’s involved with thyroid removal
Thyroid removal may target a portion of your thyroid (partial thyroidectomy) or all of it (total thyroidectomy). If your surgery is partial, your thyroid gland may regain complete function shortly after the surgery. In either case, recovery time is relatively short.
If you have a total thyroidectomy, it will be necessary to take daily hormone therapy for the rest of your life in order to replace the thyroid’s lost capacity. Even with partial thyroidectomies, many patients require hormone replacement treatments to counteract the underproduction of thyroid hormones that can result from thyroid removal. Other possible complications of a thyroidectomy include nerve damage, vocal changes, damage to the nearby parathyroid glands, calcium deficiencies, bleeding and infection. But it’s considered a thoroughly safe operation, and the odds of complications are very low.