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Thyroid Surgery Recovery

If you are about to undergo a thyroid surgery, or have recently undergone one, then it is imperative for you to be aware of some must know facts on the recovery of the surgery.
Rajib Singha
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
The thyroid gland is one of the ductless glands or endocrine glands in the human body. This gland is responsible for controlling the metabolic rate of the body and balancing the calcium level. The thyroid gland may suffer from certain ailments like thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer, and hyperthyroidism. To treat such cases, thyroid surgery is performed. The surgery may result in the removal of a part or the entire thyroid gland. This process is known as a thyroidectomy. Thyroid surgery recovery generally depends on the patient's age and his/her overall health.
What's Next After the Surgery?
It's an obvious fact that after any surgery, the body requires ample time to recover. The recovery time depends on the extent and the graveness of the surgery performed. Post the surgery, the patient requires to take utmost care regarding his physical wellbeing. Doctors recommend the patient to take complete bed rest for the first day in the hospital itself. This is to keep a check on the patient, lest any bleeding or difficulty in breathing occur. The patient's diet would consist of only fluids. However, in normal conditions, the patient can resume his/her normal diet after a period of three days (72 hours) from the surgery. For at least two weeks, the patient would be advised to restrain from doing any heavy work. Patients generally don't have to wait for long to return to their daily work. However, it depends on the type of work and work pressure. After being discharged from the hospital, it becomes important for the patient to follow the recommendations given by the surgeon for the aftercare.
Eating
It is advisable to continue taking liquids and soft foods for a period of 3 - 7 days post surgery. Liquid diet is followed by most patients as they experience mild sore throat or pain in the neck area while swallowing. The pain may be due to the breathing tube or the surgery.
Bathing and Cleaning
After the surgery the patient would find a small quarter-inch tube, coming out of the skin of the neck. The area where the surgery was performed is prone to build up certain fluids, and this may be critical for the recovery. So, this tube, known as drain, prevents the build or the accumulation of the fluids. After the removal of the drain, say 24 hours post surgery, the patient can bathe or shower. However, after bathing, the area of surgery must be 'pat-dried' properly.
Driving
After the surgery, it is normal for a patient to feel stiffness or soreness in his neck. In such a case, driving would not be a safe activity, as the stiff muscles may reduce the range of motion of the neck. So, it would be difficult for the patient to move his head from side to side or look behind while driving. Driving is also not advised after intake of any pain relief medicines. Sufficient guidelines regarding beneficial neck and shoulder exercises would be advised by the hospital physiotherapist. A simple exercise can be slowly turning the head to the right, and rolling the chin across the chest, until the head is in the left. Such exercises help the muscles to relax and loosen. The stiffness usually fades away within a few weeks, provided the exercises are followed as advised.
Medications and Visits
After surgery, the patient might be required to follow a course of medication. The patient is expected to follow the course as prescribed by the surgeon. Generally, the medicines may include antibiotics, and painkillers. Follow-ups are a general procedure after any kind of surgery, and they help doctors to keep a track of the patient's recovery.
Post Surgery Risks and Side Effects
# Although the surgery is considered safe, possible complications and side effects may still occur. One side effect of the thyroid surgery that a patient may suffer from is hoarseness or change in voice. During the surgery, there is a possibility of the nerves that control the voice getting damaged. This is because the nerves of the voice box (larynx) are very close to the thyroid gland. The brighter side of such a case is that only 1 out of 250 people who undergo thyroid gland surgery have a complaint against voice change or hoarseness.
# People who undergo total removal of their thyroid glands suffer from hypothyroidism. This is when the body is unable to produce necessary thyroid hormones. In such a case, thyroid hormone replacement drugs, known as thyroxine drugs, would be prescribed. These tablets would be replacing the hormones that would have been otherwise produced by the thyroid gland in normal conditions. As mentioned earlier, thyroid hormones are necessary to keep up the metabolic rate of the body. In absence of these hormones, the patient may suffer from extreme fatigue, depression, unfavorable weight gain, hair problems, and several symptoms of hypothyroidism. Regular follow ups with the doctor will help the patient in keeping a check on the required hormonal levels in the blood.
# After a thyroid surgery, people often experience low blood levels of calcium about 30% of the time. This may occur if the parathyroid glands get affected during the surgery. To help control the calcium level in blood, calcium supplements are prescribed. This situation is usually temporary, as the parathyroid glands resume their function after a short while.
# Wound caused during the surgery may cause infection. While at home, care should be taken that the wound is not irritated and disturbed. Keeping the wound clean and dry would help in quick healing. The wound should not be covered at all times, as exposure to air also helps in getting the wound dry. Swimming must be avoided and going to crowded places as well.
Recovery from thyroid surgery demands time and a great deal of patience. Being thorough about all the steps recommended by the surgeon and following them, helps in a speedy recovery. The slightest hint of any complications and unexpected symptoms, should be reported to a medical personnel. Seeking for a doctor's advice, regarding all aspects of the surgery is always better than being anxious or worried.
Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is meant for educating the reader only, and should not be considered as a replacement for an expert medical advice.