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.

Thyroid hormones

If you have all of your 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 had a lobectomy, you may also need to take thyroid hormones, but this is unlikely. Your doctor or specialist nurse can tell you whether you will need to.


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. Your doctor may check your vocal cords before and 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 is 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 make 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.

Your doctor or nurse will check the calcium level in your blood after your operation. If your calcium level is low, they will give you calcium either as a tablet or through a drip in your arm. They will check your calcium levels every day until they 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. You should take the calcium tablets at least four hours before or after taking thyroid hormone replacement tablets.

You will often only need these supplements 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 doctors will monitor it regularly. This will often be an endocrinologist or your GP.


Scar

After your operation, you will have a small 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 it will fade as it heals. If you have more extensive surgery to remove lymph nodes, you may have a bigger scar.

We have more information about covering scars.

The scar on my neck was pretty big and visible at first, but now it isn't too bad.

Dave


Neck stiffness

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


Tiredness and mixed emotions

It is 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

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 replacement therapy

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

Follow-up care after surgery

You will have follow-up appointments after your surgery to check on your recovery and talk about any concerns.