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Everything You Should Know About Post-Op Thoracic Surgical Care 

Thoracic disorders might afflict any person at any age. And you never know if the disease will go away after a course of conservative treatment or require more radical invasive methods like surgery.

Though the very idea of undergoing chest surgery may make you break out in a cold sweat, there are times when it’s unavoidable. Today, experienced surgeons utilize state-of-the-art technologies that allow for performing operations through small incisions.

Such procedures can be minimally invasive, which allows for shortening your recovery time and speeding up the healing process after surgery. 

What is Thoracic Surgery?

Thoracic surgery includes any operation to treat organs in your chest, including the heart, esophagus, trachea, mediastinum, lungs, major blood vessels in the chest, etc.

Thoracic surgeries help fix such issues as heart failure, congenital heart issues, lung cancer, dysphagia, aneurysms, chest tumors, hiatal hernias, and many more. As you see, thoracic surgeries may be a life-saving option that can help you live a long, healthy, and rewarding life without pain and physical discomfort.

If you or your loved one has ventured to undergo a thoracic surgery, make sure to familiarize yourself with today’s post where we’ve shared some simple yet effective recommendations on after surgery home care that can help improve your postoperative recovery.  

Here, you will find out everything you need to know about post-op thoracic surgical care.


As you recover, be sure to rest throughout the day and slowly return to your daily routine, it is normal to lose your appetite for several days after an operation. However, proper nutrition is very important to your recovery.

Your discharge instructions will include information on a recommended diet. A well-balanced diet including fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean protein after surgery is recommended. 

Exercise is recommended to work up an appetite. If you’re having trouble with this, consider having small meals – four to six times a day with a well-balanced diet that includes the aforementioned foods. 



After surgery, the combination of anesthesia and pain medication may cause you to become constipated. It may take a couple of weeks for your bowel movements to return to normal.

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So, you may experience painful intestinal gas, which is quite normal. Walking is the best thing you can do to help you deal with gas, pain, and bowel function.

Drinking plenty of water and eating fruits, vegetables, and bran can also go a long way toward helping you with constipation. It also will be beneficial for regular bowel movements.

Try to incorporate fiber-rich foods into your diet as much as possible. It’s also important that you take a stool softener if you’re currently taking your pain medication at home and struggling with bowel problems.

Note that having one soft movement a day is a good goal in the weeks following your operation. Still, if you haven’t had good bowel movements, over-the-counter laxatives can be a good option. 

Wound Care

Many patients have questions about how to care for their wounds after surgery. First of all, you need to familiarize yourself with your discharge instructions to know whether your wound needs some specific treatment.

Discharge instructions include information on how to care for your wound at home, warnings, recommendations, etc. So, make sure to carefully follow these instructions provided by your care team. 

The number one rule for wound care is treating the site with clean, disinfected hands. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly, rubbing them with soap for at least 20 seconds and rinsing under clean running water before and after touching your wound.

If you have a chest tube or drain placed during the surgery, it’s usually removed before discharge. If this is not the case, you will be given instructions on how to care for the drain or tube while at home.

At the same time, you want to refrain from putting any soap or shower gel on your wound. Not only is it fraught with irritation but it also might get in the way of your wound successfully healing.    

The dressing over the chest tube wound site could be removed two days after the chest tube is removed. Until then, make sure to keep the dressing clean and dry. After removing the dressing, you can leave the chest tube site open to the air.

If your site is leaking a little, you may need to cover it with gauze and tape to protect your clothes. On top of the layer of skin, you’ll probably have some clear glue that may be itchy at the site and flake off after a week or two. 

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If you have a small stitch or surgical staples, note that they can be removed seven to ten days after your tube is removed. Normally, the removal procedure is performed by a home nurse or during your post-operative appointment by a member of your care team. 

You may also experience numbness around the wound. While sensation usually returns to the area within three to six months, some patients report experiencing numbness for a longer period.     



Once you have removed the original dressing from the incision, you may shower, but not earlier than 24 hours after the removal procedure. It’s critical for your safety that you don’t scrub or apply too much pressure on your wound site.

It also might be more beneficial to refrain from using your usual cosmetic soap. Instead, you should lightly cleanse the area with dedicated post-op soap or gel. After that, you should pat dry it. Avoid peroxide and antibiotic ointments and never soak your incisions.

That is why showering is much preferable to taking a bath. And make sure to avoid swimming altogether. You may submerge your incision in water only after you make sure all scabs have fallen off and the scar underneath is well healed. Typically, this happens several weeks after surgery. 

Sleep Cycle 

While in the hospital, you may have gotten off your normal sleep cycle. But you shouldn’t worry about that since this is quite normal for a recuperating patient. It’s also normal to have trouble sleeping shortly after surgery.

Should you find yourself unable to fall asleep as you normally did, limit yourself to a short 20-25 minute nap during the day. If you’re still struggling with your sleep, you want to contact your primary care physician for further recommendations. 

When Should You Seek Professional Help? 


Care teams normally remain available to postoperative patients throughout their recovery process. Naturally, you might find yourself at a loss to know how to act in this or that situation after surgery or have questions or concerns while recovering after surgery at home.

Check your discharge papers for relevant information and important contact numbers. Normally, numbers are listed on the last page of your discharge papers. The instructions may include phone numbers for team members that can be reached outside of regular business hours like in the evenings and on weekends. 

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For urgent and life-threatening emergencies, call the universal emergency number or report your case to the nearest local hospital emergency room. 

Don’t hesitate to contact your surgery team member if you experience:

  • A fever or temperature over 101.5 degrees.
  • Increased redness, pain, or swelling at the incision site. 
  • New or increased shortness of breath that doesn’t go away with rest.
  • Drainage from the incision site that is tick, cloudy, or foul-smelling.    
  • Continues weight loss two weeks after discharge. 
  • A large increase in mucus coughed up from your lungs or a change in the color of your mucus (yellow, green, or bright red).
  • Diarrhea for more than 24 hours or constipation for more than 2-3 days. 

Postoperative Appointments 

Also, keep in mind the date of your post-op appointments, and never miss them. If such appointments haven’t been arranged, make sure to contact your healthcare provider as soon as you get home to schedule an appointment. Note that your follow-up appointment can be scheduled for 2-4 weeks after your discharge date. 

The majority of hospitals provide all the necessary information related to your post-op appointments via email, as well as information on when to arrive and what to bring with you. If you’re using some dedicated telemedicine or e-prescribing services, you can also get postoperative appointment information through them. 

Note that in most cases, patients are required to have an X-ray taken before their post-op appointment. If taken at an outside medical facility, be sure to bring the disk of the X-ray to your post-op appointment. 

Lab results usually take 7-10 business days. If the results are not back by the time you’re discharged, you’ll be notified over the phone or in person during your follow-up appointment. Your doctor will talk to you about when you can return to work and what precautions you need to follow to ensure your recovery goes smoothly.  

Video: Thoracic Surgery Patient Education (Discharge and Home Care)

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