Thyroidectomy: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Front and back views of thyroid

Thyroidectomy is the removal of the thyroid gland, which is shaped like a butterfly and lies across the windpipe (trachea). The gland makes hormones that control how your body makes and uses energy (metabolism). A doctor removes the gland when a tumour is present. The doctor may also remove the gland if you have an enlarged thyroid that is causing symptoms that bother you. Most tumours that grow in the thyroid gland are benign, meaning they are not cancer.

You may leave the hospital with stitches in the cut (incision) the doctor made. Your doctor will tell you if you need to come back to have these removed. You may still have a tube called a drain in your neck. Your doctor will take this out a few days after your surgery.

You may have some trouble chewing and swallowing after you go home. Your voice probably will be hoarse, and you may have trouble talking. For most people, these problems get better within 3 to 4 months, but it can take as long as a year. In some cases, this surgery causes permanent problems with chewing, speaking, or swallowing.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover. When you lie down, put two or three pillows under your head to keep it raised.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Avoid strenuous physical activity and lifting heavy objects for 3 weeks after surgery or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Do not over-extend your neck backwards for 2 weeks after surgery.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • You may take a shower, unless you still have a drain near your incision. Pat the incision dry. If you have a drain, follow your doctor's instructions to care for it.

Diet

  • If it is painful to swallow, start out with cold drinks, flavoured ice pops, and ice cream. Next, try soft foods like pudding, yogurt, canned or cooked fruit, scrambled eggs, and mashed potatoes. Avoid eating hard or scratchy foods like chips or raw vegetables. Avoid orange or tomato juice and other acidic foods that can sting the throat.
  • If you cough right after drinking, try drinking thicker liquids, such as a smoothie.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • Your doctor may prescribe calcium to prevent problems after surgery from low calcium. Not having enough calcium can cause symptoms such as tingling around your mouth or in your hands and feet.
  • Your doctor may have prescribed antibiotics. Take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • If your doctor told you how to care for your incision, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • After the first 24 to 48 hours, wash around the wound with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
  • You may have a drain near your incision. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of it.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • Bleeding from your incision soaks through your bandages.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • You have a tingling feeling around your mouth.
  • You have cramping or tingling in your hands and feet.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have trouble talking.
  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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