Athens Regional Health System
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Thoracotomy

Thoracotomy is a major surgical procedure that involves an incision to the chest wall area. A thoracotomy gives surgeons access to the lungs, esophagus, spine and diaphragm.
 
The causes for a thoracotomy include removing lung cancer, treating emphysema, treating esophagus disorders, and strengthening collapsed lungs.
 
During the surgery, which lasts between three and four hours, patients are sedated and placed on their side. The doctor makes a front-to-back incision of six or seven inches between two ribs and opens the chest wall, which enables the removal of diseased lung tissues or other tasks. There are a host of different thoracotomy methods, including video-assisted thoracic surgery, which is less invasive and can be performed in special cases.
 
After the procedure, patients are transported to intensive care for up to 48 hours and can expect a hospital stay of between five and 10 days. Once released from the hospital, patients are reminded to stay well hydrated, refrain from smoking, gradually increase physical activity and practice deep breathing exercises.
 
Complications from thoracotomy include wound infection, air leaks, lung cavity bleeding, infection within the chest cavity, continual pain and continued chest tube drainage.

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