Lung surgery - discharge

You had surgery to treat a lung condition. You had open surgery or video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). You may have had one of these common procedures:

  • Lobectomy, to remove one or more lobes of a lung
  • Wedge resection, to remove part of a lobe in a lung
  • Pneumonectomy, to remove a lung
  • Lung biopsy
  • Removal of pus from the chest cavity
  • Closure of a hole in the lung (air leak)
  • Treatment for excess sweating (hyperhidrosis)
  • Removal of a blood clot from your chest (hemothorax)

You may have spent some time in the intensive care unit (ICU) before going to a regular hospital room. A chest tube to drain fluid from inside your chest was in place part or all of the time you were in the hospital. You may still have it when you go home.

What to Expect at Home

It will take 6 to 8 weeks to get your energy back. You may have pain when you move your arm, twist your upper body, and may be when you breathe in deeply.


Do not lift anything heavier than about 10 pounds (about a gallon of milk) for 2 weeks after video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery and 6 to 8 weeks after open surgery.

You may walk 2 or 3 times a day. Start with short distances and slowly increase how far you walk. If you have stairs in your home, go up and down slowly. Take one step at a time. Set up your home so that you do not have to climb stairs too often.

Remember you will need extra time to rest after being active. If it hurts when you do something, stop doing that activity.

  • Do NOT do yard work for 3 to 4 weeks after surgery. Do NOT use a push mower for at least 8 weeks. Ask your doctor or nurse when you can start doing these things again.
  • You can do light housework 2 weeks after surgery.

It is probably okay to start sexual activity when you can climb 2 flights of stairs without being short of breath. Check with your doctor.

For the first 6 weeks after your surgery, you must be careful how you use your arms and upper body when you move. Press a pillow over your incision when you need to cough or sneeze.

Make sure your home is set up safely during your recovery.

See also:

Ask your doctor when it is okay to start driving again. Do NOT drive if you are taking narcotic pain medicine. Drive only short distances at first. Avoid driving when traffic is heavy.

It is common to take 4 to 6 weeks off work after lung surgery. Ask your doctor when you can go back to work. You may need to adjust your work activities when you first go back, or work only part-time for a while.

Your doctor will give you a prescription for pain medicine. Get it filled when you go home so you have it when you need it. Take your pain medicine when you start having pain. Waiting too long to take it will allow your pain to get worse than it should.


You will use a breathing device to help you build up strength in your lung. It does this by helping you take deep breaths. Use it 4 to 6 times a day for the first 2 weeks after surgery.

Wear pressure (T.E.D.) stockings for about 2 weeks after surgery to prevent blood clots from forming in your legs and traveling to your lungs.

If you smoke, ask your doctor or nurse for help quitting. Do NOT let others smoke in your house.

Wound Care

Keep the dressing (bandage) on your chest-tube wound for 1 to 2 days after your chest tube has been removed. You may have some skin soreness around your chest tube.

If you have a chest tube:

  • Clean around the tube once a day.
  • If your chest tube comes out, cover the hole with a clean dressing and call your doctor right away.

Change the dressing on your incision every day or as often as your doctor told you to. Your doctor will also tell you when you no longer need to keep the dressing on your incisions. Wash the wound area with mild soap and water. See also: Surgical wound care

  • You may take a shower once all of your dressings have been removed.
  • Do not try to wash or scrub off any tape (Steri-Strips) or glue. It will fall off on its own in about a week.
  • Do not soak in a bathtub, pool, or hot tub until your doctor tells you it is okay.

Sutures (stitches) are usually removed after 7 days. Staples are usually removed after 7 to 14 days. If you have the kind of sutures that are inside your chest, your body will absorb them and you will not need to have them removed.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if:

  • Your temperature is above 101 °F.
  • Your incisions are bleeding, red, warm to the touch, or they have a thick, yellow, green, or milky drainage coming from them.
  • Your pain drugs do not help ease your pain.
  • It is hard to breathe.
  • You have a cough that does not go away, or you are coughing up mucus that is yellow or green, or has blood in it.
  • You cannot drink or eat.
  • Your leg is swelling or you have pain.
  • Your chest, neck, or face is swelling.
  • There is a crack or hole in your chest tube, or your chest tube comes out.
  • You cough up blood.

Alternate Names

Thoracotomy - discharge; Lung tissue removal - discharge; Pneumonectomy - discharge; Lobectomy - discharge; Lung biopsy - discharge; Thoracoscopy - discharge; Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery - discharge; VATS - discharge


Smythe WR, Reznik SI, Putnam JB Jr. Lung (including pulmonary embolism and thoracic outlet syndrome). In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 59.

Update Date: 2/10/2011

Updated by: Shabir Bhimji, MD, PhD, Specializing in General Surgery, Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Midland, TX. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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