Lung resection is surgery to remove part or all of your lung. It is used to treat a damaged or diseased lung.
It is common to feel tired for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Your chest may hurt and be swollen for up to 6 weeks. It may ache or feel stiff for up to 3 months. For up to 3 months, you may also feel tightness, itching, numbness, or tingling around the cut (incision) the doctor made. Your doctor will give you medicines to help with pain.
You may have stitches or staples in the incision. Your doctor will take these out 1 to 2 weeks after your surgery. You may have one or more tubes coming out of your chest to drain fluids. Your doctor will probably take these out about 1 week after surgery.
After surgery, you will probably feel short of breath. Your doctor, nurse, or respiratory therapist will teach you deep-breathing and coughing exercises to help your body get as much oxygen as possible. At first, you also may need to get extra oxygen through a mask or a plastic tube in your nostrils (nasal cannula).
This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
- Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
- Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, for 6 to 8 weeks, or until your doctor says it is okay. Also for 6 to 8 weeks, avoid swimming, tennis, golf, or other activities that could strain your arm and shoulder muscles.
- For 6 to 8 weeks, avoid lifting anything over 5 pounds or that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
- You may be able to take showers (unless you have a drain near your incision). If you have a drain, follow your doctor's instructions to empty and care for it. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
- Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
- You will probably need to take 1 to 2 months off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
- Do not fly in an airplane or dive deeply (such as in scuba diving) until your doctor tells you it is okay. Avoid any situations where there is increased air pressure.
- You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
- Ask your doctor how much fluid you should drink.
- You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
- Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
- Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
- Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
- If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
- If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
- Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water and pat it dry. Other cleaning products, such as hydrogen peroxide, can make the wound heal more slowly. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
- Keep the area clean and dry.
- Wear clean, loose clothing over your incision.
- To help keep your lungs clear, cough and do deep breathing exercises as instructed by your doctor, nurse, or respiratory therapist.
- Your doctor may send you home with an incentive spirometer. This is a device that helps you practice taking deep breaths. This can help keep your lungs healthy.
- Ask your doctor about shoulder exercises to keep the muscles near your chest strong and flexible.
- Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
- Try to avoid being around people who have a cold, the flu, or other illnesses.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
- You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
- You have a fever over 100°F.
- You have signs of infection, such as:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Red streaks leading from the incision.
- Pus draining from the incision.
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
- A fever.
- You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
- Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.
- You cough up a lot more mucus than normal, or the mucus changes color.
Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- Fluid leaks around the drain in your chest, or you have a sudden increase in the amount of fluid that comes out of the drain.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter G498 in the search box to learn more about "Lung Resection: What to Expect at Home".
Current as of: May 4, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & David C. Stuesse MD - Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery