Approximately 9% of patients experienced some complication of thyroid surgery, which included both temporary and permanent types of complications. Specifically, low blood calcium levels (hypocalcemia), usually resulting from injury to the nearby parathyroid glands, occurred in 4.5% of patients, vocal cord problems in 1.1%, requirement for a blood transfusion in 0.9%, wound infection in 0.4%, and death in 0.3%. Although the average length hospitalization was one day among all patients, 41% needed to stay hospitalized for more than two days. Patients who were older tended to have a higher risk of complications, while patients who had thyroid surgery done at hospitals that perform more than 100 thyroid surgeries per year and patients who had less than their entire thyroid removed (partial thyroidectomy) were at the lowest risk.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS STUDY?
This study confirms other data from studies of patients across the U.S. Using a large group of patient data collected over 15 years, the findings overall show that thyroid surgery is usually a safe procedure and associated with only rare complications, including death. The database includes all patients who were hospitalized for thyroid surgery in California during this time period, thus represents a very rigorous type of data analysis. The findings from this study will be helpful in the joint decision between patients and their physicians in discussing the pros and cons of thyroid surgery.
—Angela M. Leung, MD, MSc
ATA THYROID BROCHURE LINKS
Thyroid Surgery: http://www.thyroid.org/thyroid-surgery/