Type of Surgery
Last updated: 02/17/2009
Opening the chest cavity means cutting through skin, muscle, nerves, and sometimes bone. It is a major procedure that often involves a hospital stay of five to seven days. The skin around the drainage tube to the thoracic cavity must be kept clean,...
and the tube must be kept unblocked.
The pressure differences that are set up in the thoracic cavity by the movement of the diaphragm (the large muscle at the base of the thorax) make it possible for the lungs to expand and contract. If the pressure in the chest cavity changes abruptly, the lungs can collapse. Any fluid that collects in the cavity puts a patient at risk for infection and reduced lung function, or even collapse (called a pneumothorax). Thus, any entry to the chest usually requires that a chest tube remain in place for several days after the incision is closed.
The first two days after surgery may be spent in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the hospital. A variety of tubes, catheters, and monitors may be required after surgery.
Thoracotomy is an incision into the chest. It is performed by a surgeon, and, rarely, by emergency physicians and paramedics, to gain access to the thoracic organs, most commonly the heart, the lungs, the esophagus or thoracic aorta, or for access to the anterior spine such as is necessary for access to tumors in the spine.
Thoracotomy is a major surgical maneuverâ€”the first step in many thoracic surgeries including lobectomy or pneumonectomy for lung cancerâ€”and as such requires general anesthesia with endotracheal tube insertion and mechanical ventilation.
Thoracotomies are thought to be one of the hardest surgical incisions to deal with post-op, because they are exquisitely painful and the pain can prevent the patient from breathing effectively, leading to atelectasis or pneumonia.
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