Preparing for Thorascopy

Thoracoscopy is often used to repair a collapsed lung; to examine, biopsy, and stage a mass in the lung; or to drain fluid from around the lungs. During thoracoscopy, your surgeon can look into your chest and perform procedures through small incisions in the chest wall. If a thoracoscopy can’t be continued, a thoracotomy (open procedure) may be necessary.

Preparing for Your Surgery

  • Ask your doctor any questions you have about the procedure.
  • Have blood tests or other routine tests that your doctor orders.
  • If you smoke, stop immediately.
  • Tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking (including aspirin), and ask if you should stop them.
  • Don’t eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery.
  • Be sure to arrive at the hospital on time the day of your surgery.

The Thoracoscopy Procedure

A thoracoscopy uses an endoscope to visually examine the pleura, lungs, and mediastinum and to obtain tissue for testing purposes. An endoscope is an illuminated optic instrument that is inserted through an incision.

  • The anesthesiologist gives you general anesthesia, which lets you sleep and keeps you free from pain during surgery. Once you’re asleep, you’re positioned comfortably on your side.
  • Several small incisions are made in your side.
  • The surgeon inserts a thin, tube-like instrument containing a tiny camera through one of the incisions. This camera allows the surgeon to view your lungs on a video monitor. Surgical instruments are inserted through the other incisions.
  • When the procedure is finished, one or more tubes may be temporarily placed in the chest to drain fluid and air.
  • The incisions are then closed with sutures or staples.

Possible incision sites for thoracoscopy.

Thoracoscopy: Risks and Complications

The risks of thoracoscopy include the following:

  • Wound infection
  • Bleeding
  • Air leak through the lung wall, requiring a longer hospital stay
  • Pain or numbness at the incision site
  • Inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia)

Thoracoscopy: Recovering in the Hospital

After surgery, you’ll wake up in a recovery area. At first you’ll probably feel groggy and thirsty. An intravenous (IV) line provides you with fluids and medications to relieve pain, and monitors keep track of your breathing and heartbeat.

To help keep your lungs clear and prevent inflammation, a respiratory therapist will teach you breathing exercises to do every hour or so. Depending on your condition, a nurse or therapist will help you get up and walk soon after your surgery to keep your blood moving and improve your healing.

The hospital stay after a thoracoscopy is generally 1 to 4 days. If you have chest tubes, you won’t go home until they’re removed.

Thoracoscopy: Recovering at Home

When you return home, follow your doctor’s instructions about how to care for your healing skin and lungs. These instructions may include the following:

  • Walk to keep your blood moving and strengthen your muscles, but avoid strenuous activity, heavy lifting, and driving for several weeks.
  • Continue to do the breathing exercises taught to you by your therapist.
  • Resume sexual relations when you feel ready.
  • Ask your doctor when you can go back to work.
  • Take your pain medications as prescribed to help relieve soreness and make activity and deep breathing easier.
  • Follow up with your doctor, who’ll monitor your healing and discuss the results of the procedure.

Thoracoscopy: When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms after your procedure:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Very red or draining incision
  • Sudden, sharp chest pain
  • Fever over 101°F
  • Coughing up bright red blood