Before coming home from hospital make sure you’re clear about:
- what you should eat and drink
- how to manage pain
- your level of activity
- driving (don’t forget to also check with your car insurance company in case they have any restrictions after an operation)
- symptoms that warrant medical attention
- any changes to your regular medication
- any new medications you need to take.
Sore throat and voice changes
After surgery, you may have neck pain and a hoarse or weak voice because of irritation to nerves in your neck. If you have a sore throat from the tube used during anaesthesia, you can suck throat lozenges. You may feel like you have a lump in your throat. These symptoms are usually temporary but sometimes voice changes persist for 2 to 3 months. If they don’t resolve after this time, talk to your doctor.
Eating and drinking
You'll be able to eat and drink as usual after surgery. You may find it’s more comfortable to eat soft foods for the first few days.
Because you may have trouble turning your head, you shouldn’t drive until you can comfortably move your head from side to side. This can take up to 1 week.
Managing the incision site and scar
Your incision may feel numb or itchy while it heals. Avoid exposing it to the sun for the first 6 months to give the scar time to heal neatly. If you keep the incision covered with a small piece of tape for the first 6 weeks and apply vitamin E cream after that, it may help produce a less noticeable scar.
Some surgeons recommend covering the incision with silicone gel sheeting to improve the scar, especially if your skin is prone to keloid scarring. Numbness over the front of your neck and under your chin is common and can last several months.
You can manage a sore throat with paracetamol, throat lozenges or a prescription painkiller.
Level of activity
You can usually return to your regular activities straight away but wait at least 10 days to 2 weeks before doing more vigorous things like heavy lifting or strenuous sports.
Returning to work
Follow your surgeon’s advice about how much time to take off. Generally, allow between 1 and 2 weeks, depending on the type of work you do.
Thyroid hormone therapy
Depending on how much of your thyroid gland has been removed, you may need to take thyroid hormone tablets (thyroxine) for the rest of your life. Thyroid hormone lasts for 4-6 weeks in your blood, so the best time to check thyroid function is usually 6 weeks after surgery. If you take thyroxine, your doctor will need to monitor your thyroid hormone level regularly to check your dose is right.
Calcium supplements and vitamin D
Your surgeon may recommend a calcium and vitamin D supplement because surgery can temporarily affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
If your parathyroid glands don’t recover after the operation you may need to take supplements long term. Symptoms of low blood calcium include numbness and tingling in the lips and all 10 fingers plus a ‘crawling’ sensation of the skin. If you have these symptoms, call your surgeon.
Treatments following thyroid cancer surgery
After thyroid surgery for cancer, your surgeon may recommend other treatments. Learn more about Thyroid cancer staging and treatments.
Support from the Australian Thyroid Foundation
The Australian Thyroid Foundation provides information and support to people with thyroid disorders and their carers. They have meetings in a number of locations where you can meet other people with thyroid problems and hear medical experts talking about treatment issues.
You’ll need to make a follow-up appointment with your surgeon and/or endocrinologist to talk about tests and any further treatment.
Watching out for problems
Call your surgeon or go to your local emergency department if you have:
- difficulty breathing
- swelling or redness around your incision
- numbness and tingling in your lips or fingertips after total thyroidectomy. This may be a sign your blood calcium is too low.