Long-term quality of voice is usually acceptable after initial hoarseness caused by a thyroidectomy or a parathyroidectomy

Gland Surg. 2019 Jun;8(3):226-236. doi: 10.21037/gs.2018.09.02.


Background: Vocal cord (VC) palsy following a thyroidectomy or parathyroidectomy can result in significant morbidity for the patient. We aimed to investigate the incidence of VC palsy in a tertiary referral Institution, track the management of these cases and record the long-term outcomes and VC recovery rates.

Methods: Retrospective review of all thyroidectomy/parathyroidectomy operations performed over 11 years. Patients with an unequivocal hoarse voice postoperatively were included. We analysed the patient's clinical characteristics and voice outcomes, operative, pathology and laryngoscopy reports during their follow-up.

Results: Ten patients fitted the inclusion criteria and were analysed. Median age at date of operation was 47.5 years (range, 16-81 years) and the M:F ratio was 1:2.3 (M:3, F:7). The median FU was 62.5 months (range, 12-144 months). The median hospital stay was 1.5 days (range, 1-87 days). There were 7 recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) injuries by manipulation, 1 case of RLN resection, 1 inadvertent division (with primary nerve repair) and 1 RLN was shaved off the thyroid. Long-term voice outcomes for the 7 patients with an RLN manipulation injury were: 3/7 patients had normal voice, 3/7 had moderate hoarseness and 1/7 had long-term hoarseness. The long-term voice outcome of the patient with RLN shaving off the thyroid gland was excellent while the 2 remaining patients (RLN resection and inadvertent division) needed 12 and 18 months respectively to achieve a normal quality of voice. Four out of the 10 patients had permanent VC palsy in the long-term and their voice outcomes varied: 1 patient had a normal voice, 2 patients had moderate hoarseness and 1 patient had persistent hoarseness. Only 1/10 patients did not show any voice improvement after 12 months.

Conclusions: In the vast majority of cases post-operative hoarseness due to RLN palsy improves in the long-term, albeit voice may not return completely to normal.

Keywords: Outcomes; palsy; parathyroidectomy; thyroidectomy; vocal cord (VC).