Influence of the refinement of surgical technique and surgeon's experience on the rate of complications after total thyroidectomy for benign thyroid disease

Acta Chir Belg. 2003 Jun;103(3):278-81. doi: 10.1080/00015458.2003.11679423.


Background: In recent years, many surgeons dealing with endocrine surgery have increasingly performed total thyroidectomy for benign thyroid disease. However, total excision of the thyroid in the treatment of benign lesions has been surrounded by even more controversy than its role in cancer treatment. The complication rate appears to be higher when the operation is done by inexperienced surgeons who have no special skills in endocrine surgery using proper techniques. The aim of this study is to determine whether surgeons experience and the refinement of surgical techniques are associated with postoperative recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) palsy or hypocalcemia after total thyroidectomy for benign thyroid disease.

Methods: A total of 68 consecutive patients who underwent total thyroidectomy for benign thyroid disease were reviewed. Twenty-six of these were from between January 1998 and June 1999 (first period) and 42 from between June 1999 and September 2000 (second period). Patients were divided into two subgroups according to different periods and different surgical techniques to identify the RLNs and the parathyroid glands. RLNs function was evaluated pre- and postoperatively by an otolaryngologist, and serum calcium levels were measured at the postoperative follow-up.

Results: During the first period of the study, transient hypocalcaemia was determined in 8 (31%) patients. Hypocalcaemia was clinically symptomatic in 5 (19%) patients. Transient RLN palsy developed in 4 (15%) patients. Unilateral permanent RLN palsy due to operative injury was observed in 1 (4%) patient. During the second period, we noted transient hypocalcemia in 11 (26%) patients and symptomatic hypocalcemia in 6 (4%) patients. Serum calcium levels returned to normal within 4 weeks after operation in all patients. Neither transient nor permanent RLN palsy was observed during this period.

Conclusions: Complications of total thyroidectomy can be minimized with increasing experience and the refinement of surgical technique.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypocalcemia / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thyroidectomy / adverse effects*
  • Thyroidectomy / methods*
  • Vocal Cord Paralysis / etiology