The role of nerve monitoring to predict postoperative recurrent laryngeal nerve function in thyroid and parathyroid surgery


  • Presented as a poster at the Triological Society in Chicago, IL, April 18–22, 2011.

  • The authors have no funding, financial relationships, or conflicts of interest to disclose.

Send correspondence to Frank R. Miller, MD, FACS, Professor/Deputy Chairman, Department of Otolaryngology–HNS, University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, 8803 Floyd Curl Dr. Mail Code 7777, San Antonio, TX 78229. E-mail:



To determine the role and efficacy of intraoperative recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) stimulation in the prediction of early and permanent postoperative nerve function in thyroid and parathyroid surgery.

Study Design

A retrospective review of thyroid and parathyroid surgeries was performed with calculation of sensitivity and specificity of the response of intraoperative stimulation for different pathological groups.


Normal electromyography (EMG) response with 0.5 mAmp stimulation was considered a positive stimulation response with postoperative function determined by laryngoscopy. No EMG response at >1–2 mAmps was considered a negative response. The rates of early and permanent paralysis, as well as sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values for postoperative nerve function were calculated for separate pathological groups.


The number of nerves at risk analyzed was 909. The overall early and permanent paralysis rates were 3.1% and 1.2%, respectively, with the highest rate being for Grave's disease cases. The overall sensitivity was 98.4%. The specificity was lower at 62.5% but acceptable in thyroid carcinoma and Grave's disease patients. The majority of nerves with a positive stimulation result and postoperative paralysis on laryngoscopy recovered function in 3 to 12 weeks, showing positive stimulation to be a good predictor of eventual recovery.


Stimulation of the RLN during thyroid and parathyroid surgery is a useful tool in predicting postoperative RLN function. The sensitivity of stimulation is high, showing positive stimulation to be an excellent predictor of normal nerve function. Negative stimulation is more predictive of paralysis in cases of thyroid carcinoma and Grave's disease.

Level of Evidence

2b. Laryngoscope, 123:2584–2587, 2013