The thought of what a post thyroidectomy life might be like can be more than a little scary. After all, the thyroid gland is a vital organ and the thought of removing all or part of it, a thyroidectomy, is in some ways almost incomprehensible. We can remove a part of a lung, or even a whole lung and survive and even lead a fairly normal life. There are other organs that share this characteristic. On the other hand, the heart is a vital organ too, but while we can repair parts of it awe really can't remove it, or remove half of it and expect a good result.
Important, But Vital? - Perhaps in the strictest use of the word, the thyroid gland isn't vital as we can live without one. The thyroid gland, located at the base of the neck, produces various hormones which control our metabolism and are also responsible for our level of energy. Even the rate of our heartbeat is to some extent under control of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland.
When A Thyroidectomy Is Required - A thyroidectomy doesn't mean that the entire thyroid is removed, though that may be the case. In some cases, perhaps most, only a part of the gland is removed. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland and it is often the case that one half is removed, allowing the remaining half to totally take over hormone production. A thyroidectomy is most often required when a cancer invades the thyroid gland and must be surgically removed. Another cause is a noncancerous enlargement of the gland, called a goiter. A goiter can become quite uncomfortable, unsightly, and can at times affect a person's ability to breathe properly, so the enlarged part of the thyroid gland is then removed.
A thyroidectomy is also required at times when a person is suffering form hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid. In such a case, the thyroid is producing a much higher level of hormones than usual, often with very undesirable symptoms and side effects. Hyperthyroidism can often be treated medicinally, but if this fails a thyroidectomy may be required.
Hypothyroidism - A post thyroidectomy lifestyle may be no different than usual if only a small part, or even half, of the thyroid has been removed. If the entire gland has been removed however, post thyroidectomy takes on a different caste. We've just mentioned hyperthyroidism, the condition of an overactive thyroid. If all or most of the thyroid has been removed, the opposite condition, hypothyroidism or an under active thyroid, occurs. Now there is not enough of the hormone needed to regulate our metabolism, and unless something is done quickly, serious symptoms will set in. Hypothyroidism causes fatigue, weakness, mental dullness and a host of other symptoms, which if untreated can become severe to the point of becoming life-threatening.
A Hormone To The Rescue - Fortunately, it's possible to survive without the thyroid gland if medication in the form of a thyroid hormone is taken on a daily basis. This hormone essentially replaces or substitutes for, the hormone which would normally be produced by the thyroid if it was still in place. Life can then go on as usual. If the entire gland has been removed, the patient will have to take this hormone daily for the rest of his or her life. If only a portion of the thyroid has been removed, post thyroidectomy treatment may consist of taking measured amounts of thyroid hormones for a period of time to prevent an onset of hypothyroidism while the gland recovers.
It is indeed a tribute to modern medicine that we can, though proper medication, not only survive the loss of our thyroid gland, but live more or less a normal life after having gone through a thyroidectomy.