Thoracoscopic Sympathectomy: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Thoracoscopic sympathectomy is surgery to cut or clamp the sympathetic nerves. The sympathetic nerves run down both sides of the spine. The surgery may be done to help control heavy sweating of the hands. It also may be used to treat chronic pain or other problems with the sympathetic nerve system.

Your chest may be sore where the doctor made the cuts (incisions) and put the surgical tools. This usually gets better after several days. But for up to 2 weeks, you may feel pain in your chest when you take a deep breath. You will probably be able to go back to work or your usual routine after about 1 to 3 weeks.

It is likely that you will have less sweating from your hands right after the surgery.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, for 3 to 4 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • For 3 to 4 weeks, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • Ask your doctor when it is safe to you to drive or fly.
  • You will probably need to take 1 to 3 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • You may shower 1 to 2 days after surgery, if your doctor says it is okay. Pat the incisions dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the incisions, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

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.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have a fever over 38°C.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incisions come open.
  • You are bleeding from the incisions enough to soak a large bandage.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Current as of: October 14, 2016