A thymectomy is surgery to remove the thymus gland. This gland is located in the upper portion of the chest, behind the breastbone.
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The thymus gland helps immune cell growth. It is usually active when you are an infant, but its function reduces as you get older. The thymus acts abnormally when a person has myasthenia gravis. A thymectomy is used to treat myasthenia gravis.
A thymectomy may also be done if the thymus has a tumor, which is called thymoma. These types of tumors are associated with myasthenia gravis.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications, such as:
General anesthesia will be given—you will be asleep during the procedure
There are 3 common methods:
You will be taken to a recovery room and monitored for any complications.
About 1-3 hours
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
The usual length of stay is 1-3 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.
You will be given fluids and medication through an IV. You will be instructed to practice deep breathing, coughing, and frequent turning. Nurses will measure your muscle strength and breathing ability to determine the effectiveness of the surgery.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
The recovery time varies from person to person, depending on the surgical approach. It may take as little as 1-2 weeks or as long as 3 months before you can return to work or school. Follow instructions on wound care to prevent infection. Your doctor may advise medications to ease discomfort.
If the surgery was done for myasthenia gravis:
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America, Inc.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
General information about thymoma and thymic cancers. National Cancer Institute. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/thymoma/patient/thymoma-treatment-pdq. Updated March 22, 2013. Accessed May 22, 2013.
Myasthenia gravis fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/myasthenia_gravis/detail_myasthenia_gravis.htm#84053153. Updated December 4, 2012. Accessed May 22, 2013.
Shrager JB. Extended transcervical thymectomy: the ultimate minimally invasive approach. Ann Thorac Surg. 2010;89(6):S2128-S2134.
6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Donald Buck, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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