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Surgical Oncology

Before and After Thyroid Surgery

Everything you need to know before and after thyroid surgery

Before Surgery

Prior to your clinic visit, you may need to undergo testing to evaluate your thyroid. Testing may include ultrasound and/or fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA), as well as routine blood work.

A series of general screening tests may be done to ensure you are healthy enough for surgery. These are often conducted one to two weeks before the operation and may include a thorough history, physical exam and blood work. Additionally, an EKG, chest x-ray and/or stress test may be needed to evaluate your heart and lung function and usually do not require a hospital stay.

You may also meet with an endocrine surgery nurse practitioner about the operation, and to make sure all the appropriate testing has been completed.

Certain medications may need to be stopped before surgery. Please consult your surgeon or primary care physician before doing so. Find a full list of medications and guidelines here.

Day Before Surgery

The Day Surgery department will contact you the evening before your surgery to let you know what time to arrive, which may be two hours prior to your surgery. As a general rule, do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before, and arrive at least two hours before your scheduled surgery. Most often you can take your routine medications with a sip of water. Medication guidelines prior to surgery will be discussed at your pre-operative visit.

You should plan to stay overnight in the hospital and will likely be discharged the following morning. Please leave all valuables at home and wear comfortable clothing.

Upon discharge, you may be prescribed the following common medications:

  1. Pain medication
  2. If necessary, you may be started on thyroid hormone (levothyroxine, Synthroid, Levoxyl). Typically your thyroid hormone levels will be monitored by your primary care physician or endocrinologist four to six weeks after surgery. Your dosage of medication (based on weight) will be adjusted as needed.
  3. Your parathyroid glands, which control the calcium level in your body, may be temporarily injured. Therefore, some patients may be sent home with calcium (TUMS). Though rare, numbness or tingling around your lips or in your fingers or toes could indicate a low calcium level. If this happens, you will be instructed to take extra TUMS and notify the surgeon’s office.

After Surgery

You will return one to two weeks post surgery to consult with your surgeon and review care instructions for your incision. Four to six weeks after, your thyroid hormone level will be measured, and medication adjusted.

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What is the recovery like?
Recovery is typically short, and pain minimal. The most common complaints are fatigue, a sore throat and generalized soreness, but they generally resolve within a few weeks.
When can I go back to work?
Recovery varies, but most people return to work one to two weeks after surgery.
When can I eat? What can I eat?
There are no restrictions on what you may eat or drink after surgery. Some people experience a sore throat and prefer soft foods for a few days. It is recommended that you avoid heavy, greasy or spicy meals for the first few days.
What activities can I do?

There are no restrictions on normal activities after surgery. You may feel more tired than usual, but it usually resolves quickly. Light activity such as walking is encouraged to help speed up recovery. Gentle neck exercises (PDF) will help prevent neck stiffness after surgery.

When can I talk again?
You may talk immediately after surgery. Your throat may be sore but talking is highly encouraged.
How do I take care of the dressing over my incision?
Typically, Steri-Strips are placed over the wound. These should remain intact for seven to ten days. You may remove them after a week.
When can I shower?
You may shower 24-48 hours after surgery. We recommend that you leave the Steri-Strips intact and lightly dry them off with a towel when finished. Avoid swimming, baths and hot tubs for at least 2 weeks post surgery.
What can I take for pain?
When discharged, you will receive a pain medication prescription. Do not take it with Tylenol—the pain medication contains it. You may take ibuprofen, but no sooner than five days after surgery. Pain medication may make you constipated. You may use an over the counter stool softener if this occurs.
What will the scar look like?
Most scars will become soft, flat white lines over time.
Why is my scar red?
During the first few weeks after surgery, the scar area will become red, firm and hard. This is normal. Scars often look worse get worse before they look better. Over the next few months, the scar will slowly mature, becoming softer and less red, though it may take up to a year to fully mature.
When will scars go away?
A scar is usually permanent. As it heals, it will become less visible.
Does putting Vitamin E oil on the scar help?
There is no guarantee whether Vitamin E oil helps scars heal faster or become less visible. Applying any oil or lotion that adds moisture will help. One to two weeks after surgery, it is a good idea to massage your scar gently but firmly (using oil or lotion) for five minutes, a few times each day.
What about sunlight and scars?
Keep out of direct sunlight for up to one year after surgery. Too much direct sunlight makes a scar darker in color than the skin around it. You should use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 when outdoors.