After Your Surgery

Postoperative Care

  • Your surgeon will contact your family as soon as your operation is completed.
  • You will wake up in a recovery room. When your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are normal, you will be taken to a regular hospital room.
  • Patients that have a hemithyroidectomy are often allowed to go home on the day of surgery.
  • You may have a drain coming out of your neck, but this is only done 15-20% of the time. This is necessary if you have a very large goiter or mass to drain off fluid that may accumulate in the neck. We will track how much fluid comes out of the drain. We may be able to remove the drain before you are discharged from the hospital. If you are sent home with the drain still in, the nurses will teach you how to care for the drain. We will bring you back to the clinic to remove the drain when the drainage is low enough.
  • Pain can be controlled with pain medication.
  • Swallowing may be a little difficult. This swallowing difficulty will resolve with time. You will be started on a liquid diet and advanced to a regular diet as tolerated.
  • Dry mouth and mild hoarseness are common. (Ice chips and lip balm are helpful.)
  • Your blood calcium level will be monitored after surgery.
  • If necessary you will be started on a calcium supplement (calcium carbonate or calcium citrate). You may also need Vitamin D to help absorb the calcium.
  • If you have had a near-total or total thyroidectomy, you will be started on thyroid hormone. You cannot live without thyroid hormone and will need to take this every day for the rest of your life. Many people have heard that taking thyroid hormone changes your weight, energy and mood. However, if you are on the right dose and your thyroid functions tests are at target, you should stay at your baseline.
  • You should be able to go home the next day. On occasion, a patient may need to stay longer in the hospital if the calcium level needs to be monitored for a longer time.
  • Typically it is OK to shower the day after surgery. However, do not submerge your incision under water for 10 days.

Home Care Following a Thyroidectomy

  • You may have a mild temperature of less than 100 degrees F. for a day or so. This is normal.
  • You will have some swelling and mild bruising in the neck and possibly in the upper chest.
  • You may have a little difficulty swallowing which will resolve over time. You can eat regular food.
  • For mild pain, take over-the-counter pain relievers. Take the prescribed pain medication if it is needed. Some prescription pain medications contain acetaminophen. You should not take more than 3,000 mg of acetaminophen per day.
  • Take thyroid hormone medication as instructed by your health care provider. See this guide for detailed information: Thyroid Hormone Replacement (PDF)
  • You may take a shower 24 hours after surgery. Do not bathe or swim for 10 days.
  • You may remove the dressing 2-3 days after surgery and leave the incision open to air.
  • It is normal to feel tired for several days. If you do not have discomfort, feel free to resume your regular activity.
  • You may resume driving when you can turn your head and no longer need prescription pain medications.
  • You may return to work when you feel ready (energy has returned and no prescriptive pain meds). Most patients need 1-2 weeks off from work.
  • If necessary you will be sent home on calcium and Vitamin D.
  • If you have difficulty with bowel movements, you may take any laxative (such as milk of magnesia or MiraLAX).

When to Call the Doctor

Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A fever higher than 101 degrees F.
  • Pain not controlled with pain medications.
  • Symptoms of a low calcium that are not improving or are getting worse despite taking calcium.

For medical emergencies, dial 911 or go to closest emergency department.

Follow-up Appointments

  • You should have a follow up appointment with your surgeon in 2-3 weeks. If you do not already have an appointment, please call 303-724-2728 to schedule one.
  • If you have been started on thyroid hormone, you will need to get your TSH level checked in 6-8 weeks. Your primary care provider or endocrinologist can do this for you if you call them for an appointment.
  • Your pathology will not be available for 5-7 days. The pathology determines if there is anything concerning (like cancer) about your thyroid tissue and/or lymph nodes that were removed. Your surgeon will go over the pathology results with you. If you have not made a follow up appointment or have not heard anything regarding your pathology in 10 days, please call the clinic as above.
  • If you have an endocrinologist, schedule a postoperative appointment for 4-8 weeks after surgery.
  • If you have been given a diagnosis of thyroid cancer and do not have an endocrinologist, please call 720-848-2650 and ask to speak to the Thyroid Tumor Coordinator about how to make an appointment. For most cases, it is okay for you to be seen 4-8 weeks after surgery. If your case is more urgent, your surgeon will contact endocrinology to obtain an appointment more quickly.

This information is provided by the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. It is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.