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A thoracotomy is a surgery to open the chest wall. The surgery allows access to the lungs, aorta, heart, diaphragm, and spine. Depending on the disease location, a thoracotomy may be done in the center, or on the right or left side of the chest.
You will be placed on your side with your arm elevated. An incision will be made between two ribs, from front to back. The chest wall will then be opened. In some cases, the doctor may take a different approach. The doctor can then do whatever procedure needs to be done in the open chest. When the procedure is done, one or more chest tubes will be placed. The tubes will make sure that blood or air does not collect in the chest. The chest wall will be closed. The incision is closed with stitches or staples and bandaged to prevent infection.
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
For some, a thoracotomy can lead to a chronic pain syndrome. It is usually described as burning pain in the area of surgery. It may be associated with increased sensitivity to touch in this area. It usually lessens over time, but you may need to see a pain specialist if the pain persists.
You will have IV lines and tubes in and around your body. Some of the lines and tubes will help you urinate, breath, and get nutrition. Most of the lines and tubes will be removed as you heal.
You may be given antibiotics, pain medication, or anti-nausea drugs.
You may need to cough and do deep breathing exercises to keep your lungs clear. This may require the use of an incentive spirometer.
Get out of bed often and sit in a chair. Slowly increase your activity as tolerated.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
Washing their hands
Wearing gloves or masks
Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
Washing your hands often and reminding your healthcare providers to do the same
Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
Not allowing others to touch your incision
If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how to successfully quit. You may need to avoid places that expose you to smoke, germs, or chemical irritants. Follow instructions on wound care to prevent infection. Your doctor may advise medications to ease discomfort.
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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
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