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Lung surgery - discharge

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

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When You Were in the Hospital

You had surgery to treat a lung condition. You may have spent 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 when you breathe in deeply.


Ask your surgeon how much weight is safe for you to lift. You may be told not to lift or carry anything heavier than 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.

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

Make sure your home is safe as you are recovering. For example, remove throw rugs to prevent tripping and falling. To stay safe in the bathroom, install grab bars to help you get in and out of the tub or shower.

For the first 6 weeks after surgery, 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.

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

It is common to take 4 to 8 weeks off work after lung surgery. Ask your surgeon 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 surgeon will give you a prescription for pain medicine. Get it filled on your way home so you have it when you need it. Take the medicine when you start having pain. Waiting too long to take it will allow the 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.

If you smoke, ask your health care provider for help quitting. DO NOT let others smoke in your house.

Wound Care

If you have a chest tube:

Change the dressing on your incisions every day or as often as instructed. You will be told when you no longer need to keep the dressing on your incisions. Wash the wound area with mild soap and water.

You may take a shower once all of your dressings have been removed.

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 surgeon or nurse if you have any of the following:

Related Information

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Lung cancer - small cell
Lung surgery
Lung cancer - non-small cell
Lung cancer
Smoking - tips on how to quit
Bathroom safety - adults
Using oxygen at home
Oxygen safety
Preventing falls
How to breathe when you are short of breath
Traveling with breathing problems


Putnam JB Jr. Lung, chest wall, pleura, and mediastinum. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 58.


Review Date: 3/8/2015  

Reviewed By: Dale Mueller, MD, Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeon, HeartCare Midwest; Chairman Department of Cardiovascular Medicine and Surgery, OSF St. Francis Medical Center; and Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery, University of Illinois, Peoria, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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