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Before Thoracic Surgery

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Know the Risks

Lung surgery is major surgery, and it carries risks. If the doctor has recommended surgery, that is because he believes the benefits in your case outweigh the risks. The risks of lung surgery include:

  • Hemorrhage, due to the rich supply of blood vessels to the lung. A blood transfusion may become necessary during surgery.
  • After a thoracotomy, there may be drainage from the incision.
  • Infection -- the patient must learn how to keep the incision clean and dry as it heals.
  • In some cases, after the chest tube is removed, air or gas accumulates in the pleural cavity, which can cause a collapsed lung.
  • Patients having part of a lung removed may have difficulty breathing and may require the use of oxygen.
  • Excessive bleeding, wound infections, and pneumonia are possible complications of a lobectomy.
  • The chest will hurt for some time after surgery, as the surgeon must cut through the patient's ribs to expose the lung.
  • Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may experience shortness of breath after surgery.
  • General anesthesia carries such risks as nausea, vomiting, headache, blood pressure issues, breathing problems, or allergic reaction.
  • Additional risks are associated with pneumonectomy. To read about them, click on the pneumonectomy page.

Esophagectomy carries the risks of leakage at the sites where the digestive system was re-attached, and breathing problems, in addition to the more general risks of infection, bleeding, adverse reaction to anesthesia, and pneumonia.

Preparing for Surgery

  • If you smoke, stop as soon as a lung disease is diagnosed.
  • Do not take aspirin or ibuprofen for seven to 10 days before surgery.
  • Tell your doctor about any blood-thinning medications you're taking, such as Coumadin (warfarin), which you may need to stop taking before the surgery to prevent excessive bleeding.
  • Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the surgery. This is important because vomiting during surgery can cause serious complications or death. For surgery in which a general anesthetic is used, the gag reflex is often lost for several hours or longer, making it much more likely that food will enter the lungs if vomiting occurs.
  • Your anesthesiologist will talk with you about your medical history and explain how anesthesia will be given to keep you asleep and free of pain during surgery.
  • To help prevent infection, any chest hair will be shaved. You may also be asked to wash with an antibacterial soap.
  • Older patients must be evaluated for heart ailments before lung surgery because of the additional strain on that organ.

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