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Surgery. 1994 Feb;115(2):139-44.

Recurrent nerve palsy after thyroid operations--principal nerve identification and a literature review.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Krankenhaus der Barmherzigen Brüder, St. Veit/Glan, Austria.



Recurrent laryngeal nerve paralysis is one of the most frequent and serious complications after thyroid operation. The routine dissection and demonstration of the recurrent nerve remain controversial. In a retrospective study in an endemic region, patients operated on with principal nerve identification were investigated for vocal paralysis.


Eight hundred and three consecutive goiter operations were analyzed. Because six patients had undergone isthmusectomies only, the recurrent laryngeal nerves were at risk in 797 operations. For 736 patients the surgical procedure was primary for benign disease, for 40 patients the operation was secondary for recurrent goiters, and 21 patients underwent operation for thyroid cancer. All patients underwent preoperative and postoperative laryngoscopic examination of the vocal cords by an ear, nose, and throat specialist.


Rate of primary postoperative vocal cord paralysis was 3.6%, and the permanent palsy rate was 0.5% with a recurrent laryngeal nerve recovery rate of 86%. In a literature survey, reports with identification of the recurrent nerve had significantly lower primary and permanent palsy rates when compared with reports without obligatory identification of the nerve (p < 0.01).


Our results and those of reports in the literature indicate that recurrent nerve paralysis is a less frequent complication when the nerve is identified.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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