The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide
Diagnostic Tests - Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery
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What risks are there from the test?

  • It is easier for patients to recover from VATS compared with regular chest surgery (often called "open" surgery) because the wounds from the incisions are much smaller. You will have a small straight scar (less than an inch long) wherever the instruments were inserted. There are some potentially serious risks from VATS surgery. Air leaks from the lung that don't heal up quickly can keep you in the hospital a longer time and occasionally require additional treatment. About 1% of patients have significant bleeding requiring a transfusion or larger operation.

    Sometimes, especially if cancer is diagnosed, your doctors will decide that you need a larger surgery to treat your problem in the safest manner possible. Your doctors might discuss this option with you ahead of time. That way, if necessary, the doctors can change over to a larger incision and do open chest surgery while you are still under anesthesia. Death from complications of VATS surgery does occur in rare cases, but less frequently than with open chest surgery.

    General anesthesia is safe for most patients, but it is estimated to result in major or minor complications in 3%-10% of people having surgery of all types. These complications are mostly heart and lung problems and infections.

    Irritation of the diaphragm and chest wall can cause pain in the chest or shoulder for a few days. Some patients experience some nausea from medicines used for anesthesia or anxiety.

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