Side effects of surgery

After surgery to your thyroid gland you may have some side effects. Some will go away with time but others may continue to affect you. If you have your whole thyroid gland removed your body will no longer produce thyroid hormones. You will need to replace them by taking tablets for the rest of your life. If you have a lobectomy, you may also need to take thyroid hormones. 

Other side effects you may have include:

  • a hoarse voice
  • change in the calcium level  in your blood – your doctor can prescribe calcium supplements to boost the calcium levels
  • a scar – this will usually be at the line of your collar and in one of your skin folds, making it less visible
  • neck stiffness
  • tiredness.

Your doctor will talk to you about these side effects before your operation. You can ask your nurse or doctor if you are worried about any of these changes.

Possible side effects

Thyroid hormones

If you have all your thyroid gland removed, your body will no longer produce thyroid hormones. You’ll need to replace them by taking tablets for the rest of your life. If you have had a lobectomy you may also need to take thyroid hormones.

Hoarse voice

The thyroid gland is close to the nerves that control your vocal cords. Occasionally these nerves can be bruised or damaged during surgery. This can make your voice sound hoarse and weak. You may have a vocal cord check after your surgery.

A hoarse, weak voice is usually a temporary problem, but may be permanent in a very small number of people. You may be referred to a speech and language therapist for specialist advice.

Change in calcium levels

There’s a small risk that surgery to remove the thyroid gland will damage the parathyroid glands. These are four very small glands behind the thyroid gland. They produce parathyroid hormone, which helps to control the level of calcium in your blood.

If your parathyroid glands are damaged, the level of calcium in your blood may become low (hypoparathyroidism). This can cause:

  • tingling in your hands or feet, or around your mouth
  • unusual muscle movements such as jerking, twitching, spasms or muscle cramps.

The calcium level in your blood will be checked after your operation. If your calcium level is low you will be given calcium either as a tablet or through a drip in your arm. Your calcium levels will be checked daily until your levels improve. Your doctor will prescribe calcium, and possibly vitamin D supplements, for you to take at home. They will arrange for you to have regular blood tests to check your calcium levels.

Often these supplements are only needed for a short time. Your doctor will tell you how long you need to take them for. If the calcium level in your blood continues to be low, one of your specialists, often an endocrinologist or your GP, will monitor it regularly.

Scar

After your operation, you’ll have a scar at the level of your collar line on the front of your neck. The scar will usually be in one of your natural skin folds, and will fade as it heals. If you have more extensive surgery to remove neck tissue you may have a bigger scar.

Neck stiffness

Your neck may feel stiff and uncomfortable following surgery. This usually gets better after a few weeks but may continue for longer if you have had more extensive surgery to remove neck tissue or some of your lymph nodes. Your doctor will prescribe painkillers to help and you may be referred to a physiotherapist. 

Tiredness

It’s normal to feel tired for a few weeks after your thyroid gland has been removed. Many people also find that they experience a mixture of emotions after surgery. This is natural as your body adjusts to the effects of the surgery.

Back to Surgery explained

Surgery for thyroid cancer

Surgery for thyroid cancer removes part or all of the thyroid gland. You may have some lymph nodes removed from your neck.

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.

Thyroid hormones

If you have part, or all, of your thyroid gland removed you may need to take thyroid hormone replacement tablets.