Intraoperative monitoring of the recurrent laryngeal nerve in thyroid surgery

World J Surg. 2008 Jul;32(7):1358-66. doi: 10.1007/s00268-008-9483-2.


Background: Recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) palsy ranks among the leading reasons for medicolegal litigation of surgeons because of its attendant reduction in quality of life. As a risk minimization tool, intraoperative nerve monitoring (IONM) has been introduced to verify RLN function integrity intraoperatively. Nevertheless, a systematic evidence-based assessment of this novel health technology has not been performed.

Methods: The present study was based on a systematic appraisal of the literature using evidence-based criteria.

Results: Recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy rates (RLNPR) varied widely after thyroid surgery, ranging from 0%-7.1% for transient RLN palsy to 0%-11% for permanent RLN palsy. These rates did not differ much from those reported for visual nerve identification without the use of IONM. Six studies with more than 100 nerves at risk (NAR) each evaluated RLNPR by contrasting IONM with visual nerve identification only. Recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy rates tended to be lower with IONM than without it, but this difference was not statistically significant. Six additional studies compared IONM findings with their corresponding postoperative laryngoscopic results. Those studies revealed high negative predictive values (NPV; 92%-100%), but relatively low and variable positive predictive values (PPV; 10%-90%) for IONM, limiting its utility for intraoperative RLN management.

Conclusions: Apart from navigating the surgeon through challenging anatomies, IONM may lend itself as a routine adjunct to the gold standard of visual nerve identification. To further reduce the number of false negative IONM signals, the causes underlying its relatively low PPV require additional clarification.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography*
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Complications / diagnosis
  • Intraoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Monitoring, Intraoperative / methods*
  • Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Injuries
  • Thyroid Diseases / surgery*
  • Thyroidectomy / adverse effects*
  • Vocal Cord Paralysis / diagnosis*
  • Vocal Cord Paralysis / etiology
  • Vocal Cord Paralysis / prevention & control