Background: Temporary hypocalcaemia occurs in up to 40% of patients following a total thyroidectomy. Serum calcium and parathyroid hormone (PTH) measurements are currently used to predict post-thyroidectomy hypocalcaemia. However, immediate access to PTH measurement is expensive and not widely available. Serum phosphate responds rapidly to changes in circulating PTH levels and its measurement is readily available in all hospitals. We evaluated the use of serum phosphate to predict temporary hypocalcaemia post-thyroidectomy.
Methods: We retrospectively assessed 111 consecutive patients who had total or completion thyroidectomy. Patients had serum calcium and phosphate measured pre-operatively, on the evening of surgery (day 0), on the morning of day 1 and over the following week as clinically indicated. Serum PTH was measured on the morning of day 1. Vitamin D levels were measured pre-operatively.
Results: Seventy-six patients did not develop treatment-demanding hypocalcaemia. In these patients, the mean serum phosphate concentration was lower on the morning of day 1 compared to that on the evening of surgery. Seventeen patients with a vitamin D >25 nmol/l developed hypocalcaemia requiring treatment from day 1 onwards. All had an overnight rise in serum phosphate to >1.44 mmol/l (100% sensitivity and specificity for predicting hypocalcaemia). Twelve patients who had a vitamin D <25 nmol/l also developed hypocalcaemia but had an attenuated rise in serum phosphate.
Conclusion: Serum phosphate is a reliable biochemical predictor of post-thyroidectomy hypocalcaemia in patients without vitamin D deficiency. Use of serum phosphate may facilitate safe day 1 discharge of patients undergoing thyroidectomy.