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A Journal on Surgery

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Minerva Chirurgica 2000 October;55(10):693-702

language: Italian

Incidence of complications in thyroid surgery

Rosato L., Mondini G., Ginardi A., Clerico G., Pozzo M., Raviola P.


Background. Thyroid surgery presents a low incidence of complications. Death is certainly a rare, or even exceptional event. Hypopara-thyroidism, above all if definitive, is the main complication of total thyroidectomy with percentages that vary between 0 and 10% in the literature (average 2%).
Methods. The incidence of recurrent lesions varies between an improbable 0% to 8%, whereas lesions to the superior laryngeal nerve are relatively frequent, but often undervalued. Dysphagia, although always transient, presents a high risk of pneumonia ab ingestis and severe dehydration. Hemorrhage has an incidence of 0.1-3.8% and infection is reported in approximately 1% of cases. The permanent and recurrence nature of thyroid pathology in literature is between 5 and 11%, resulting from inadequate or sometimes useless surgery. Hypothyroidism is the logical consequence of total thyroidectomy. In the light of these data we have re-examined 300 operations involving thyroid pathology performed by the same team using the same method over the past 4 years (82% females, 18%males). 33% of the cases presented benign euthyroid nodular pathology, 27% hyperfunctioning benign nodular pathology, 2.6% Flajani-Basedow-Graves disease, 9% were adenomas, 7% were differentiated carcinomas, 2% anaplastic carcinomas and 0.7% medullary carcinomas. 99 extracapsular total loboisthmectomies, 135 total extracapsular thyroidectomies and 66 subtotal thyroidectomies were performed.
Results. The following complications were observed: 31/300 symptomatic hypocalcemias of which 25 were transient and 6 (2%) were definitive but easily controlled with treatment; 9 recurrent monoplegias out of 501 isolated recurrent forms of which 4 (0.8%) was permanent; 5/300 (1.7%) postoperative dysphagias associated with recurrent monoplegia in 4 cases. Damage to the external branch of the superior laryngeal nerve was suspected in 11/300 cases (3.7%). Postoperative hemorrhage occurred with an incidence of 1.3%, whereas the incidence of wound infection and serous collection was 1.7%. Moreover, persistent hyperthyroidism after subtotal bilateral thyroidectomy was observed secondary to toxic plurinodular struma. A case of paralysis of the right ulnar nerve, when the arm was adducted, was observed on the operating table, but regressed after about 4 months. Mortality was zero.
Conclusions. Thyroid surgery is still hampered by a relatively low percentage of complications, which are probably still the result of various technical limitations, and it appears difficult to reduce these, let alone eliminate them completely.

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