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After surgery

Find out how you’ll feel after your surgery, possible problems after surgery and your follow up appointments.

When you wake up

When you come round from the anaesthetic, you may be in a special recovery area for a short time. Don't worry about this. It is so that a nurse can keep a close eye on you until you are fully awake. Once you have completely come round, you will be taken back to your ward. You have to keep sitting up so that you can breathe easily.

Your wound

Your neck wound is usually closed with stitches that are under the skin surface and dissolve over a few weeks. Sometimes surgeons use clips rather than stitches. Clips need to be removed a few weeks after the operation. You may have a sore throat but this will stop within a few days.

When you wake up, you will have several different tubes going into your body. This can be a bit frightening. But it helps to know what they are all for. You will have:

  • a drip (intravenous infusion) to give you fluids until you are drinking again
  • one or more tubes (drains) coming out from your wound

Your nurse can normally take out the drip and drains within 24 hours of the surgery.

The tube coming out from the wound will be connected to a drainage bottle or bag. It is there to stop blood and fluids from collecting inside your wound and causing swelling.

Swelling in this area could be uncomfortable and could interfere with your breathing and swallowing. The tube will be taken out when there is only a small amount of fluid coming out of it. This is usually within a day or so. If you have had lymph nodes removed, you may need to have the drains in for longer.


You will almost certainly have some pain and stiffness in your neck after your operation. Usually the pain is well controlled and you will probably be up and about the first day or so after surgery.

There are many different painkilling drugs you can have. It is important to tell your doctor or nurse as soon as you feel any pain. They can then find the right type and dose of painkiller for you. Painkillers work best when you take them regularly.

You will probably find it uncomfortable to swallow for at least a few days after your operation. It may help to have a soft diet for a while. You can talk to a dietician about this if you need to. Or your nurse may give you a diet sheet to take home with you.

Going home

Most people go home about 1 or 2 days after this type of surgery. You will feel much better once you have got rid of your drips and drains. You may go back to the hospital or to your GP surgery every few days for a nurse to check your wound.

You will have the phone number of the hospital ward and can call them if you are worried about anything.

You will be given some exercises to do to help you get rid of the stiffness in your neck. Normally, you can start these a day or two after surgery. You should keep doing them until you can move your neck and shoulder as freely as you could before. This will be within a few weeks of your operation.

Side effects

After thyroid surgery some people have a hoarse voice. Very rarely an infection develops after surgery. The infection can be in the wound or you may have a chest or urine infection. If this happens, your doctor will give you antibiotics to clear the infection up.

Thyroid hormone replacement

If you have had your whole thyroid removed, you will need to take tablets to replace the thyroid hormones that your thyroid would normally make. The thyroid hormones are thyroxine (T4) and liothyronine (T3). You need one of these hormones to keep your body metabolism working effectively and will need to take them for the rest of your life. Without the hormones, you would feel tired, gain weight, have dry skin and hair, and feel physically and mentally lacking in energy. Your doctor or specialist nurse will talk to you about which hormones you need to take and the correct dose.

If you have had follicular or papillary thyroid cancer, the hormones may also help to stop the cancer from coming back. They stop your body from producing another hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which can encourage these types of thyroid cancer cells to grow.

Follow up appointments

You’ll have follow up appointments to check your recovery and sort out any problems. They‘re also your opportunity to raise any concerns you have about your progress.

Last reviewed: 
08 Jun 2018
  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th Edition)
    L Dougherty and S Lister
    Wiley-Black, 2015