Possible complications

Some complications apply to many types of surgery. You own risk will depend on your health and which operation you have.

Minor more common risks
Any operation in the chest can lead to a chest infection (pneumonia). There is a lot you can do to help reduce the risk: breathing exercises, walking around and coughing to clear mucus from the lungs. You need good pain control to do these properly. A chest infection is often treated with antibiotics and extra physiotherapy. A chest infection could mean you need to stay in hospital longer.

If your wound becomes more sore, red or leaks fluid there may be a wound infection. This is usually treated with antibiotics and dressings.

Painkillers often cause constipation. To help you should have a healthy diet, drink enough fluid, take laxatives and walk around.

Some bleeding happens during surgery, this is usually a small amount and your body makes more blood to replace it. Blood stained fluid in a chest drain bottle is normal. If there is a large amount of bleeding a blood transfusion may be necessary.

Confusion can happen for a few days after surgery. It may be caused by strong painkillers, lack of sleep and the hospital ward being different from home. You should return to normal within a few days.

Damage to teeth can happen when putting the tube in to help you breathe. It can also occur during bronchoscopy. Great care is taken to avoid this. Please tell your surgeon and anaesthetist about your teeth, including if you have any loose teeth, caps, crowns or bridges. If you wear dentures you can keep this in until you are in the operating theatre.

Major less common risks
If there is heavy bleeding soon after the operation you may need to go back and have another operation to stop the bleeding.

Pain should get better over a few weeks after surgery. In some people the pain lasts months or years and may be difficult to control. The feeling may be described as burning, pins and needles or numbness. Advice from a pain specialist may be needed to control the pain.

The heart can start going in an irregular and faster beat, this is called AF (atrial fibrillation). This is usually controlled with medication. If AF continues beyond a few days you may need to have medication to thin the blood, such as warfarin.

Rarely a chest infection (pneumonia) may result in infected fluid collecting around the lung. A chest drain may need to be inserted to drain the fluid. If the infection has been there for a longer it can produce fibrous tissue around the infection. This is called an empyema. An operation may be needed to clear the infection.

Blood clots in the leg or lung can happen during any hospital stay or times of reduced activity.

A heart attack or stroke may occur after any operation with a general anaesthetic. If you already have a heart condition the risk is higher. We assess your short term risk of a heart problem as part of your pre op assessment. Your GP can assess your long term risk and advise you how to improve it. Information about a heart health assessment is available at Patient.co.uk