Postoperative Complications After Thyroidectomy: Time Course and Incidence Before Discharge

J Surg Res. 2021 Apr;260:210-219. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2020.11.008. Epub 2020 Dec 23.


Background: Although complication rates after thyroidectomy are well described in the literature, the timing of these events is less understood. This study delineates the timeline and risk factors for early adverse events after thyroidectomy.

Materials and methods: This study included a retrospective review of 161,534 patients who underwent thyroidectomy between 2005 and 2018 using the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program database. Time to specific complications was analyzed for all patients undergoing thyroidectomy, with further stratification of hemithyroidectomy and total thyroidectomy cohorts. Univariate analyses were conducted to analyze demographics, preoperative comorbidities, and complications. A multivariate logistic regression model was generated to identify significant risk factors for 7-day postoperative complications.

Results: The overall complication rate was 3.28%. A majority of complications arose before discharge including the following: blood transfusion (96%), hematoma formation (68%), pneumonia (53%), and cardiac arrest (67%). Approximately 37% of unplanned reoperations occurred before discharge in the hemithyroidectomy versus 63% in the total thyroidectomy cohort. Greater than 65% of mortalities occurred after discharge in both groups. Complications generally occurring within 7 d for the entire cohort included the following: pneumonia (3; 2-8 [median postoperative day; interquartile range]), pulmonary embolism (6; 2-12), cardiac arrest (1; 0-5), myocardial infarction (2; 1-6), blood transfusions (0; 0-1), and hematoma formation (0; 0-2). Superficial surgical site infection (9; 6-16) occurred later. Patients who underwent outpatient surgery had a decreased risk of complications (odds ratio 0.41) in the 7-day postoperative period.

Conclusions: Although early complications after thyroidectomy are rare, they have a distinct time course, many of which occur after discharge. However, in selected patients undergoing outpatient thyroidectomy, overall risk of complications is decreased. Understanding timing helps establish better preoperative communication and education to improve postoperative expectations for the provider and patient.

Keywords: NSQIP; Postoperative complications; Thyroid surgery; Thyroidectomy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Discharge*
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thyroidectomy*
  • Time Factors