What Are Side Effects of Thyroidectomy and Complications?

Side effects of thyroidectomy include neck soreness, pain on swallowing, hoarse voice, throat irritation, etc. Read to know the better care tips after surgery.

Thyroidectomy or surgical removal of the whole or part of the thyroid gland is a method of treatment for thyroid disorders like goiter and cancer. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the lower part of the neck. It produces a number of hormones which are responsible for regulating various aspects of metabolism including calorie burning and heart rate. But, can side effects or other complications occur after this thyroidectomy surgery?

What Are the Thyroidectomy Side Effects?

Some people experience short-term side effects after thyroidectomy, including the following:

  • Neck pain: You may experience pain on swallowing or breathing for several days following surgery. You can relieve the discomfort using non-steroidal pain medication like ibuprofen.
  • Tender neck: After surgery, it is natural for a patient to minimize neck movement. But this can lead to muscular tension. To prevent neck tension, do some stretches that exercise different neck muscles. Such exercises include rolling the chin while turning your head to the left, and then doing the same while turning your head to the right. Repeat these exercises several times in a day.
  • Voice issues: You may experience some voice issues like hoarseness and inability to speak loud for up to several months after surgery.
  • Windpipe irritation: In case a breathing tube was used for anesthesia, you may have windpipe irritation including the feeling of partial blockage. This should, however clear in a few days.

What Are the Possible Complications of Thyroidectomy?

In addition to thyroidectomy side effects, some complications are associated to the surgery.


Because parathyroid glands neighbor the thyroid gland, injury to these glands occurs in nearly 24% of thyroidectomies. And because parathyroid glands are responsible for regulation of calcium in the body, their damage may lead to low calcium in blood (hypocalcemia). And while this problem is usually temporary, recent studies indicate that about 1% of the patients who undergo thyroidectomy get permanent hypoparathyroidism that requires sustained treatment.

Damage to the Laryngeal Nerve

Damage of the laryngeal nerves is also likely during thyroid surgery due to their close proximity to the thyroid gland. Such damage may lead to some level of paralysis within the vocal cords and possibly, hoarseness. Recurrent laryngeal nerve damage can cause paralysis of the vocal cords. This can further make airflow into the lungs difficult and require immediate treatment including the insertion of an air tube through the throat in order for the patient to breathe.

Additional Complications

As in many surgeries, bleeding is among the possible thyroidectomy side effects or complications. If the bleeding is goes on for long, blood may accumulate in the area and cause the constriction of the airway.

Infection may also occur in the site, and scarring, including the formation of a keloid. Additionally, a fistula may form across the surgical wound and the lymphatic system which may lead to drainage of a milk-white fluid and possible dehydration which may lead to weakening of the immune system, bleeding and infection.

Risk Factors of Complications

There are many risk factors of complications following thyroidectomy. Removal of the whole thyroid is associated with higher risk in comparison with partial removal. Complications are also higher when the surgery is carried out by newly qualified surgeons. Some studies have also indicated that male patients and the elderly are more likely to get post surgery complications.

Recovery After Thyroidectomy

Incision Care 

  • Follow the doctor’s advice on how to take care of the incision site. In case no instructions were given, do the following: 24 - 48 hours after surgery, clean the area around the site using clean water without compounds such as hydrogen peroxide and alcohol. Repeat this twice daily.
  • In case there is a drain near the incision, talk to your doctor about attending to it.


  • Get adequate sleep and rest if you are tired. This will aid in faster recovery. Be sure to use some pillows to keep your head in a raised position.
  • Take regular walks. You can start with a short walk and build upon it with time. Walking will aid in better blood flow besides helping you breathe better. It will also aid bowel movement and reduce your chances of getting respiratory problems.
  • Do not engage in strenuous physical exercise or similar activities such as heavy lifting for up to three weeks post surgery or longer if the doctor recommends it.
  • Avoid over-extending of the neck either backwards or sideways for the first two weeks as a way to avoid side effects.
  • Talk to your doctor about how soon you may start driving again.
  • You can enjoy a shower provided no draining is taking place near the incision site. In case of a drain, talk to your doctor for guidance.


In case you experience pain when swallowing, begin with cold beverages such as ice cream and ice pops. You can then move on to yogurt and other soft foods such as pudding, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes and cooked fruit. Avoid scratchy or hard foods like raw veggies and chips, and acidic fruits and juices like orange and tomato.

  • In case you cough soon after you drink, you can try taking something thicker like a smoothie.
  • During this time, you might not get regular bowel movements. This should not worry you.  However, you need to prevent constipation and strained bowel movements by taking fiber supplements daily. In the event that you don’t have a bowel movement for a number of days, you need to talk to the doctor who may recommend a mild laxative.


In case you were on medication prior to surgery, consult your doctor about when to resume taking the medicines. The doctor will also give any necessary additional instructions to ensure that you get minimal thyroidectomy side effects.

  • For blood thinners like warfarin, clopidogrel and even aspirin, discuss with the doctor and ensure the instructions are clear to you.
  • If you need pain medications, take them as instructed. Consult even if you are considering buying over-the-counter medicines.
  • In case you suspect that some of the medication makes you sick, take it after meals provided your doctor hasn’t directed against it. You may also request your doctor to prescribe a different medicine.
  • Additionally, the doctor may recommend a calcium supplement to ensure you don’t suffer from low calcium. Low calcium levels can lead to symptoms like tingling in the hands, feet or in the mouth.
  • You might also be put on antibiotics to ensure you don’t get infections. Ensure that you take antibiotics as instructed and complete the prescribed course.


Remember that follow-up is key to speedy recovery. Attend all follow-up appointments, and in case of any problem, contact the doctor or care provider immediately. You also need to take interest in your test results so you know how you are doing. And be aware of the medications that you are taking.



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