Thyroid Surgery for Goitre

Is your doctor recommending thyroid surgery for goitre?  If so, you probably have many questions – and that is to be expected.  Here, we’ll take a quick look at what a goitre is, plus we will discuss the surgery itself.

About Goitre

When you hear the word “goitre,” perhaps you have visions of patients with massively enlarged throats; in most cases, and thanks to modern surgery, goitres do not reach the gargantuan proportions often displayed in medical texts and in online photo galleries; depending on your body size, a goitre may simply cause your neck to look swollen, or it may appear as a clearly defined mass.  Goitre is the term given to an enlarged thyroid gland.   The term is simply a descriptive one – it does not explain what has caused the gland to become enlarged.

There are a number of causes which can contribute to goitre.  One of the most common is insufficient iodine intake; some people who follow low-salt diets or who choose salt which has not been supplemented with iodine are at risk of developing goitre. Another causal factor can be higher than normal consumption of certain foods known to neutralize iodine.  These foods are mainly cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.  People who consume a lot of soy are also at high risk of developing goitres.

In the case of iodine deficiency, goitres form because the thyroid requires iodine in order to manufacture the hormones it produces.  When the thyroid begins producing a diminished amount of hormones, the body’s pituitary gland sends chemical signals to the thyroid, in the form of elevated TSH levels.  This causes the thyroid to become enlarged.

Drugs including phenylbutazone and lithium can contribute to goitre formation; sometimes, the thyroid itself is the culprit.  If you have nodules growing within your thyroid gland, if you have thyroid cancer, or if you suffer from an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or even an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) you may be at risk of developing a goitre.

Goitre Symptoms

In the beginning stages of goitre formation, there may be no noticeable symptoms other than slight swelling.  As the goitre grows larger, its mass can begin to compress the esophagus and trachea, leading to symptoms including coughing, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty sleeping due to an inability to breathe adequately.  In some cases, patients feel as though food is getting caught in the upper throat; sometimes, they suffer from labored breathing.  If you have a goitre, you may have none of these symptoms, or you may suffer from all of them.  Symptoms vary from one patient to the next.

Thyroid Surgery for Goitre

Once the thyroid has become enlarged, forming a goitre, surgery is the only way to alleviate the problem.  Today’s goitre surgeries are simpler than those performed even a few decades ago; scarring tends to be minimal, and recovery time has decreased greatly.  Your doctor will be able to provide you with specific information relevant to your own case, but in general, patients either receive total thyroidectomies or hemi-thyroidectomies.

Thyroidectomy involves the complete removal of the thyroid gland, while hemi-thyroidectomy involves only partial removal of the thyroid .  Your doctor will explain whether you require a complete thyroidectomy or only partial thyroid removal; during that conversation, you will be able to ask any questions and receive a preliminary prognosis for recovery.

Following thyroid surgery for goitre, you will have a scar which will be noticeable at first, but which will fade gradually.  Goitre surgery involves creating an incision which follows the direction of the natural lines of the neck’s skin; this helps to prevent a lasting, noticeable scar from forming.

Most patients recover from goitre surgery easily, eating and drinking the evening after surgery, and feeling only a little pain.  The throat often feels irritated for about a week; most people plan to take between a week and ten days off work for recovery.