It is widely accepted that thyroid surgery is not without morbidity. One well known postoperative complication is respiratory distress. The aim of this prospective observational study was to determine the incidence of post-thyroidectomy respiratory complications and to identify possible predictive factors. The study population was made up of 262 patients who had undergone thyroidectomy for goiter at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital in Nigeria from January 1989 through December 2003. Information was collected on 8 possible predictive factors for respiratory complications: (1) the duration of the goiter, (2) the preoperative status of the recurrent laryngeal nerve, (3) the presence or absence of tracheal narrowing or deviation, (4) the presence or absence of retrosternal extension, (5) the ease or difficulty of endotracheal intubation, (6) the presence or absence of thyroid cancer, (7) the presence or absence of giant goiter, and (8) whether or not the goiter represented a recurrence. Respiratory complications occurred in 20 of the 262 patients (7.6%). Of these 20 patients, 16 (80%) had a goiter of at least 5 years' duration, 12 (60%) had a giant goiter, 5 (25%) had tracheal narrowing, 4 (20%) had a malignant goiter, 3 (15%) had palsy of the recurrent laryngeal nerve preoperatively, and 2 patients each (10%) had retrosternal extension, a difficult intubation, or a recurrent goiter. Twelve patients (60%) had at least 4 of the 8 possible risk factors, and 6 others (30%) had 3 factors. Postoperative tracheotomy was necessary for 4 patients. No deaths occurred. While the findings of this observational study can only suggest the possibility of causation, preoperative factors such as long-standing goiter and giant goiter should be taken into consideration in postoperative management and the prevention of respiratory complications. In addition, the presence of at least 4 of the 8 factors studied should likewise alert the management team.