How is thyroid disease treated?

Your healthcare provider’s goal is to return your thyroid hormone levels to normal. This can be done in a variety of ways and each specific treatment will depend on the cause of your thyroid condition.

If you have high levels of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism), treatment options can include:

  • Anti-thyroid drugs (methimazole and propylthioracil): These are medications that stop your thyroid from making hormones.
  • Radioactive iodine: This treatment damages the cells of your thyroid, preventing it from making high levels of thyroid hormones.
  • Beta blockers: These medications don’t change the amount of hormones in your body, but they help control your symptoms.
  • Surgery: A more permanent form of treatment, your healthcare provider may surgically remove your thyroid (thyroidectomy). This will stop it from creating hormones. However, you will need to take thyroid replacement hormones for the rest of your life.

If you have low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), the main treatment option is:

  • Thyroid replacement medication: This drug is a synthetic (man-made) way to add thyroid hormones back into your body. One drug that’s commonly used is called levothyroxine. By using a medication, you can control thyroid disease and live a normal life.

Are there different types of thyroid removal surgery?

If your healthcare provider determines that your thyroid needs to be removed, there are a couple of ways that can be done. Your thyroid may need to be completely removed or just partially. This will depend on the severity of your condition. Also, if your thyroid is very big (enlarged) or has a lot of growths on it, that could prevent you from being eligible for some types of surgery.

The surgery to remove your thyroid is called a thyroidectomy. There are two main ways this surgery can be done:

  • With an incision on the front of your neck.
  • With an incision in your armpit.

The incision on the front of your neck is more of the traditional version of a thyroidectomy. It allows your surgeon to go straight in and remove the thyroid. In many cases, this might be your best option. You may need this approach if your thyroid is particularly big or has a lot of larger nodules.

Alternatively, there is a version of the thyroid removal surgery where your surgeon makes an incision in your armpit and then creates a tunnel to your thyroid. This tunnel is made with a special tool called an elevated retractor. It creates an opening that connects the incision in your armpit with your neck. The surgeon will use a robotic arm that will move through the tunnel to get to the thyroid. Once there, it can remove the thyroid back through the tunnel and out of the incision in your armpit.

This procedure is often called scarless because the incision is under your armpit and out of sight. However, it’s more complicated for the surgeon and the tunnel is more invasive for you. You may not be a candidate for this type of thyroid removal if you:

  • Are not at a healthy body weight.
  • Have large thyroid nodules.
  • Have a condition like thyroiditis or Graves’s disease.

Talk to your about all of your treatment options and the best type of surgery for you.

How long does it take to recover from thyroid surgery (thyroidectomy)?

It will take your body a few weeks to recover after your thyroid is surgically removed (thyroidectomy). During this time you should avoid a few things, including:

  • Submerging your incision under water.
  • Lifting an object that’s heavier than 15 pounds.
  • Doing more than light exercise.

This generally lasts for about two weeks. After that, you can return to your normal activities.

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