A thoracotomy is a procedure where a surgeon makes an incision between your ribs to view or access other organs. Your heart and associated blood arteries such as your aorta, esophagus, lungs, and trachea are examples of these other organs. It’s possible that your doctor is attempting to access the front of your spine.

Depending on which organ they are trying to view or treat, your surgeon will often make the incision on the left or right side of your chest. Your surgeon might have to break or remove a rib in some situations. The incision starts on your chest, travels under your armpit, and ends on your back. The sort of operation you’re having will determine the exact placement and size of the incision. Another name for it is an open operation.

Why would I need a thoracotomy?

In order to perform a biopsy and remove tissue for a diagnosis, your doctor might need to perform a thoracotomy on you. The process can also be applied therapeutically. To treat, you could need a thoracotomy:

biopsies to check for lung diseases.
Lung cancer removal.
problems related to the heart.
problems with the diaphragm.
pulmonary collapse (pneumothorax).
Pericardial tamponade, another name for cardiac tamponade.
esophageal disorders, such as cancer of the esophagus.
Water around the lungs,” or pleural effusion, is more common when an infection is present.

What is the Procedure Details

What happens before a thoracotomy?


You must be in good enough health to have general anesthesia, which is necessary for a thoracotomy procedure. You will receive instructions from your healthcare team regarding when to cease eating and drinking in order to have surgery.

Make sure your medical staff is aware of all the vitamins, minerals, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter items you use. You will receive information from your providers regarding how to stop using drugs. Certain medications, such as blood thinners, may need to be stopped earlier than others.

For non-emergency thoracotomies, it might be highly advised by your physician that you give up smoking

What happens during a thoracotomy?

Your surgical team will place you on the right side with one arm over your head during a thoracotomy. The crew will place a padded holder over the arm that is over your head and use a wrapped blanket to support the other arm and shoulder.

Single lung ventilation will be a specialty of your anesthesiologist, who also specializes in thoracic procedures. Breathing will only occur in the lung on the side that is not undergoing surgery.

If required, your surgeon may split or break a rib as well as make an incision in between the proper pair of ribs. To create a hot probe that can pass through bone and other tissues like muscle, your surgeon may employ electricity. To see and/or repair the organs they’re looking for, they’ll employ rib spreaders and retractors.

You’ll have a tube to assist fluids drain and air escape once the wound is closed. We refer to this as a chest tube.

What happens after a thoracotomy?

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You will spend roughly a week in the hospital following the thoracotomy. For a minimum of several days, the chest tube or tubes will be left in place.
Your medical team will support you in using the incentive spirometer, coughing, and taking quick walks with help. They will also assist you in controlling your discomfort.
Your healthcare professional will inform you of the results of any thoracotomy performed in order to diagnose a condition, as well as any potential next actions.

Risks / Benefits

What are the risks or complications of a thoracotomy?

Like any surgery, thoracotomies have risks. Some of these encompass:
Problems with well-known anesthesia.
Later headaches can also encompass:
Pneumonia, a respiratory contamination.
Atelectasis, a fall apart in one or more areas of your lung.
Post-thoracotomy pain syndrome, which is ache that persists months after the surgical treatment.

Recovery and Outlook

What is the recovery time after a thoracotomy?

You’ll be capable of go returned for your ordinary consuming conduct after the method. You may additionally want to take a fiber complement each day that will help you keep away from constipation. You should be able to drink freely, until your healthcare issuer tells you to restrict fluids.

Take your ache medicinal drug as directed. Don’t permit ache stop you from breathing deeply, that could cause pneumonia.

You’ll spend about per week in the clinic after a thoracotomy method. However, you’ll be off of work for approximately two months after this surgical treatment.

You’ll want to observe commands out of your surgical crew on when you may resume sexual relations, lifting heavy items and participating in sports activities.

While you’re home, you’ll want to preserve your efforts to enhance respiration, so one can suggest deep respiration, coughing and using the inducement spirometer. Your company may additionally propose sporting events on your fingers and shoulders.

When To Call the Doctor

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When should I see my healthcare provider?

Your provider will let you know when you should come for follow-up appointments. You should call your provider with questions if you develop symptoms or signs that worry you. In general, call your provider if:


  1. You develop a fever.
  2. You start bleeding again or you cough up blood.
  3. You have problems breathing.
  4. Your incision has pus, swelling or if your skin changes colors.
  5. Your pain is out of control.


What is the difference between a thoracotomy and a sternotomy?

The incision (cut) made by the surgeon in between your ribs is known as a thoracotomy. A sternotomy involves making an incision through the sternum, or breastbone. This bone is split or fractured, then reassembled.

What is the difference between a thoracotomy and a thoracostomy?

A thoracostomy requires an incision to provide room for a tube that can be used to drain fluid or give medication. The tube enters the pleural cavity, also known as the pleural space. This region is between the wall of your chest and your lungs.

The incision made during a thoracostomy is significantly less than the incision made during a thoracotomy. The goals of the two processes are not the same.

Is a thoracotomy painful?

Thoracotomy discomfort is real. Breathing problems brought on by the pain may ultimately result in pneumonia or atelectasis. There are several methods your medical team can use to manage your pain. These could involve techniques like the placement of an epidural catheter, intravenous painkillers, and oral painkillers, to mention a few.

It is possible that the discomfort will last for a very long time. Post-thoracotomy pain syndrome is the term for this