Thoracic Surgery Q&A

What does a thoracic surgeon do?

A thoracic surgeon performs surgical procedures on the organs found in the chest cavity such as the esophagus, chest wall, diaphragm, mediastinum, lungs and heart. Cardiothoracic surgeons are trained to perform many cardiac procedures including bypass surgery on the heart, valve replacements and thoracic aortic surgery.

Is thoracic surgery dangerous?

All surgery is potentially dangerous and thoracic surgery is more dangerous when there is a complex surgical procedure that has to be done, or in cases of trauma where a patient has other injuries compromising their general state of health and ability to heal.

Is thoracic surgery the same as cardiothoracic surgery?

Thoracic surgery is a more general term, while cardiothoracic surgery refers more specifically to surgeons who perform work on the heart and do many cardiac procedures such as bypass surgery, valve repair and so on. Thoracic surgery includes surgery of the lung including for lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases.

How long is recovery from thoracic surgery?

Thoracic surgery does take quite some time to recover from, and in general, patients may take as long as 6 to 8 weeks to recover if the chest has to be opened. Some pain and stiffness may continue for as long as 3 months more. The exact length of time it takes to recover will also depend on what procedure was done and your general state of health. Less invasive procedures can often mean quicker recovery times.

Is thoracic surgery painful?

All surgery is painful, and thoracic surgery can be painful if the chest cavity is being opened. Minimally invasive thoracic procedures will be less painful. Doctors will provide appropriate and adequate pain management and treatment during and after the thoracic surgical procedure to minimize the patient’s level of discomfort. 

Who performs thoracic surgery?

There are different categories of thoracic surgery according to the American Medical Association, and some surgeons choose to specialize in pediatrics or other areas. Cardiothoracic surgery focuses more on the heart. Dr. Ghalili performs cardiac, thoracic and vascular surgery in the adult population.

What is a minimally-invasive thoracoscopy?

This is a procedure that is done with the help of a video and is called a Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). It involves making a small cut between the ribs and placing a tube into the chest cavity to which a small camera is attached. The camera enables the thoracic surgeon to see the lungs and thus he or she is able to make a few other incisions and use thorascopic instruments to remove lung tissue (lung resection). The big benefit is that the entire chest is not cut open which means that recovery is quicker and easier.

When is a chest tube needed?

One or more chest tubes may need to be placed into the chest cavity to drain air or fluid. This can be the result of surgery or if there is a collapsed lung. Chest tubes are often inserted to treat a tension pneumothorax or a hemothorax. A pneumothorax is when there is a lung injury, often due to trauma, and the air becomes trapped in the chest making it impossible for the lung to expand. A hemothorax is when blood is trapped in the chest due to a traumatic injury or chest surgery. In both cases, a chest tube needs to be inserted between the ribs and into the chest so that the air or fluid can be drained out and the lungs can then function as normal. 

How long after chest tube removed back to normal?

Once the chest tube or tubes are removed, the surgical incision needs to heal. The total recovery time is usually from one to two weeks. 

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