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A safe and cost-effective short hospital stay protocol to identify patients at low risk for the development of significant hypocalcemia after total thyroidectomy.

Laryngoscope 2006 June
OBJECTIVE: The objective of this retrospective chart review was to determine if serial postoperative serum calcium levels early after total thyroidectomy can be used to develop an algorithm that identifies patients who are unlikely to develop significant hypocalcemia and can be safely discharged within 24 hours after surgery.

METHODS: Records of 135 consecutive patients who underwent total/completion thyroidectomy and were operated on by the senior author from 2001 to 2005 have been reviewed. For the entire study group, reports of the early postoperative serum calcium levels (6 hours and 12 hours postoperatively), final thyroid pathology, preoperative examination, inpatient course, and postoperative follow up were reviewed. An endocrine medicine consultation was obtained for all patients while in the hospital after surgery. For patients who developed significant hypocalcemia, reports of their management and the need for readmission or permanent medications for hypoparathyroidism were reviewed. According to the change in serum calcium levels between 6 hours and 12 hours postoperatively, patients were divided into two groups: 1) positive slope (increasing) and 2) nonpositive (nonchanging/decreasing).

RESULTS: All patients with a positive slope (50/50) did not develop significant hypocalcemia in contrast to only 59 of 85 patients (69.4%) with a nonpositive slope (P < .001, positive predictive value of positive slope in predicting freedom from significant hypocalcemia = 100%, 95% confidence interval = 92.9-100). In the nonpositive slope group, 61 patients had a serum calcium level > or =8 mg/dL at 12 hours postoperatively (< or =0.5 mg/dL below the low end of normal), and 53 (87%) of these patients remained free of significant hypocalcemia in contrast to only 6 (25%) of 24 patients with serum calcium level <8 mg/dL at 12 hours postoperatively (sensitivity = 90%, positive predictive value = 87%). In addition, of the eight patients who developed significant hypocalcemia in the nonpositive slope group with a serum calcium level > or =8 mg/dL at 12 hours postoperatively, 7 (88%) patients developed the signs and symptoms during the first 24 hours after total thyroidectomy. Readmission and permanent need for calcium supplementation happened in two patients, respectively, all with serum calcium levels <8 mg/dL at 12 hours after total thyroidectomy. The compressive and/or symptomatic large multinodular goiter as an indication for thyroidectomy was associated with developing significant hypocalcemia (P < .05). There was no statistically significant correlation between the development of significant hypocalcemia and gender, age, thyroid pathology other than goiter, or neck dissection.

CONCLUSION: Patients with a positive serum calcium slope (t = 6 and 12 hours) after total thyroidectomy are safe to discharge within 24 hours after surgery with patient education with or without calcium supplementation. In addition, patients with a nonpositive slope and a serum calcium level > or =8 mg/dL at 12 hours postoperatively (< or =0.5 mg/dL below the low end of normal) are unlikely to develop significant hypocalcemia, especially beyond 24 hours postoperatively, and therefore can be safely discharged within 24 hours after total thyroidectomy with patient education and oral calcium supplementation. Our management algorithm identifies those patients at low risk of developing significant hypocalcemia early in the postoperative course after total thyroidectomy to allow for a short hospital stay and safe discharge.

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