A thoracotomy (say "thor-uh-KAW-tuh-mee") is surgery done through a cut (incision) in the chest wall between the ribs. The doctor is able to operate inside the chest through this incision. A thoracotomy may be used for surgery on the lungs, esophagus, trachea, heart, aorta, or diaphragm. The exact placement of the incision depends on the reason for the surgery. It is usually across the side of the mid-chest.
In order to spread the ribs far enough to do the surgery, your doctor may need to cut through a rib or the breastbone (sternum). When the surgery is finished, the doctor will close the incision with stitches or staples. If a rib or the breastbone was cut, the doctor will use wire to hold the pieces of bone together as they heal.
Most people spend 3 to 7 days in the hospital after this type of surgery. You will be quite sore after chest surgery. You will get medicine to help with this. Even though you will be sore, it is very important to breathe deeply and be as active as possible after surgery. This will help your lungs expand again and help you heal more quickly. It is important not to smoke after surgery.
The amount of time you will need to recover at home depends on the type of surgery you had. You will probably need to take at least 1 to 2 months off work.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Having surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect and how to safely prepare for surgery.
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Current as of: September 5, 2018
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & David C. Stuesse MD - Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery
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