What are the signs and symptoms of recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) injury due to thyroid surgery?

Updated: Jan 25, 2018
  • Author: Pramod K Sharma, MD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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Answer

Answer

Patients with unilateral vocal fold paralysis present with postoperative hoarseness or breathiness. The presentation is often subacute. At first, the vocal fold usually remains in the paramedian position, creating a fairly normal voice. Definite vocal changes may not manifest for days to weeks. The paralyzed vocal fold atrophies, causing the voice to worsen. Other potential sequelae of unilateral vocal-fold paralysis are dysphagia and aspiration.

Bilateral vocal-fold paralysis may occur after total thyroidectomy, and it usually manifests immediately after extubation. Both vocal folds remain in the paramedian position, causing partial airway obstruction. Patients with bilateral vocal-fold paralysis may present with biphasic stridor, respiratory distress, or both. On occasion, the airway is sufficient in the immediate postoperative period despite the paralyzed vocal folds. At follow-up, such patients may present with dyspnea or stridor with exertion.


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