Electrophysiologic monitoring of the recurrent laryngeal nerves may not predict bilateral vocal fold immobility after thyroid surgery

  • Robert L. Witt
    Address correspondence and reprint requests to Robert L. Witt, MD, Suite 112, 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue, Wilmington, DE 19806.
    From the Section of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, Department of Surgery, Christiana Care Health Services, Newark, DE; Department of Otolaryngology, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, PA USA
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      Two cases of bilateral vocal fold immobility (VFI) after identification and preservation of the recurrent laryngeal nerves (RLNs) required tracheotomy until vocal fold recovery. The first patient underwent thyroid surgery without preoperative or postoperative evaluation of the vocal folds, administration of postoperative intravenous steroids, or electrophysiologic monitoring of the RLNs, whereas the second patient underwent a thyroid procedure in which all of the aforementioned were executed. Preoperative and postoperative clinical evaluation of the RLNs is strongly suggested in patients undergoing thyroid surgery, especially revision surgery. Patients potentially undergoing total thyroidectomy should be counseled about the remote chance of airway obstruction and should be properly selected for this operation. Subclinical stretching of the RLNs or ischemia from the endotracheal tube cuff can result in unilateral VFI, and rarely bilateral VFI, requiring reintubation, tracheotomy, or vocal fold lateralization. Electrophysiologic monitoring may not always predict bilateral VFI.


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