A thoracotomy (say "thor-uh-KAW-tuh-mee") is a cut (incision) that the doctor makes in the chest wall through your front, side, or back. The doctor is able to do surgery inside the chest through the incision. A thoracotomy may be used to do surgery on the lungs, esophagus, trachea, heart, aorta, or diaphragm. The exact place in the chest where the doctor makes the incision depends on the reason for the surgery.
It is common to feel tired for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Your chest may hurt and be swollen for up to 6 weeks. It may ache or feel stiff for up to 3 months. You may also feel tightness, itching, numbness, or tingling around the incision for up to 3 months. Your doctor will give you medicine to help with pain.
You will have stitches or staples in the incision. You may have one or more tubes coming out of your chest to drain fluid and air that can build up after surgery. The tubes are often removed before you leave the hospital. Your doctor will remove the stitches or staples at your follow-up visit.
You may feel short of breath at first after the surgery. Your doctor, nurse, or respiratory therapist will teach you deep-breathing and coughing exercises to help your body get as much oxygen as possible. You also may need to get extra oxygen through a mask or a plastic tube in your nostrils (nasal cannula). This is called oxygen therapy.
The amount of time you will need to recover depends on the surgery you had. You probably will need to take at least 1 to 2 months off work.
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.
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.
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter T374 in the search box to learn more about "Thoracotomy: What to Expect at Home".
Current as of: December 6, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& David C. Stuesse, MD - Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery
©2006-2018 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.