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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Apr 2, 2024.

What do I need to know about a thoracotomy?

A thoracotomy is surgery to repair damage to the blood vessels and organs inside your chest. These organs include your esophagus, heart, lungs, and trachea (windpipe). A thoracotomy is also done to remove a lung tumor or an abscess (pocket of pus). It may also be done to remove air or blood trapped inside your chest.

How do I prepare for a thoracotomy?

What will happen during a thoracotomy?

What should I expect after a thoracotomy?

You will be taken to a room or the intensive care unit (ICU) where you can rest. An endotracheal (ET) tube may be left inside your mouth and throat for 1 or 2 days after your surgery. The ET tube is hooked to a machine called a ventilator that will help you breathe. Healthcare providers will watch you closely for problems. Do not try to get out of bed until your healthcare provider says it is okay. A healthcare provider may remove your bandage soon after your surgery to check your incision site.

What are the risks of a thoracotomy?

You may lose more blood than expected during surgery. Some of your ribs may be broken, causing pain after you wake up. After surgery, you may also have pain and trouble moving your arms and shoulders. You may have post-thoracotomy pain syndrome (PTPS). PTPS causes pain at your incision site for 2 months or longer. After surgery, you may feel dizzy, have blood clots, a nerve injury, lung problems, and a decrease in blood pressure. You may develop a life-threatening blood clot. Problems that occur during or after surgery may be life-threatening.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.