An inexpensive and widely applicable technique to monitor recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) function during thyroid surgery can be safely implemented.
Single-surgeon academic practice.
Three hundred sixty-three consecutive patients undergoing surgery for thyroid disease in the 18 months from November 1, 1999, to May 31, 2001.
Anesthetic management using laryngeal mask airway and spontaneous ventilation, combined with electrical RLN stimulation and fiberoptic video laryngoscopy to confirm vocal cord response.
Main Outcome Measures
Vocal cord response to RLN stimulation, intraoperative anatomic findings, postoperative voice quality, and anesthetic complications.
We used the laryngeal mask airway–based technique in 327 cases. Visualization of vocal cords was maintained throughout the surgery in 310 cases (95%). In 10 cases (3%), the branch of the RLN carrying vocal cord function could not be identified until electrical testing was performed. A single inadvertent RLN palsy was seen in 1 of the 17 cases in which vocal cord visualization was lost during the procedure (0.03% overall). Upper airway obstruction occurred in 16 (5%) of 327 attempted procedures, requiring tracheal intubation in 3 (1%). No further complications regarding airway management were seen. Pneumothorax was observed in 5 cases (2%), each of which resolved without chest tube placement.
This technique can be applied to thyroid surgery as a safe means of managing the airway. It is associated with an ability to test RLN function at will in more than 95% of cases using readily available equipment.