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13.12.2017 | original scientific paper | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

European Surgery 1/2018

How many parathyroid glands can be identified during thyroidectomy?

Evidence-based data for medical experts

European Surgery > Ausgabe 1/2018
MD Elisabeth Gschwandtner, MD Rudolf Seemann, MD Claudia Bures, MD Lejla Preldzic, MD Eduard Szucsik, MD Michael Hermann
Wichtige Hinweise
This paper is not based on a previous communication to a society or meeting.



The purpose of this study is to provide guidance for medical experts regarding malpractice claims on permanent hypoparathyroidism by analyzing the number of parathyroid glands (PGs) identified during thyroidectomy and the clinical outcome.


Parathyroid findings were documented in a standardized protocol for 357 patients undergoing thyroidectomy and treated by a single specialized surgeon. The resected thyroid was routinely dissected for accidentally removed PGs with consecutive autotransplantation and the pathological report also described unintentionally resected PGs. Follow-up was performed for 6 months.


The mean number of identified PGs was 2.28. No PGs were found in 20 (5.6%), one in 56 (15.7%), two in 126 (35.3%), three in 114 (31.9%), and four in 41 (11.5%) cases. One patient (0.28%) had manifest permanent hypoparathyroidism, while ten patients (2.8%) had latent permanent hypoparathyroidism (hypocalcemia and normoparathyroidism). The risk factors identified for postoperative hypoparathyroidism were an increasing number of visualized PGs, autotransplantation, central neck dissection, and PGs in the histopathological work-up. For permanent hypoparathyroidism, PGs in the histology examination and neck dissection were significant, but the number of identified PGs was not.


Even an experienced surgeon is not always able to find all four PGs during thyroidectomy and occasionally identifies none. Rather than focusing on identifying a minimum number of PGs, it is more important not to miss them in risky positions. A documented awareness of PGs, i. e., knowledge of variable parathyroid positions and their saving, is a prerequisite for surgical quality and to protect surgeons from claims.

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