Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Could heart surgery have affected my lung?

Ask the doctor

Could heart surgery have affected my lung?

Q. Almost three years ago I had triple bypass surgery and mitral valve replacement. I did so having only one lung. It feels like the operation somehow harmed my lung, making it harder to breathe. Can heart surgery do this?

A. As you have come to know, people can live quite normally with just one lung and can even undergo major surgery.

There is more to effective breathing than healthy lung tissue. The muscles of the chest wall, the diaphragm, and the muscles of the abdomen and neck all participate in breathing. The mechanical properties of the chest wall are another important factor. In older people with osteoporosis, for example, small fractures in the bones of the spine can cause them to hunch over. This changes the shape of the chest and may stiffen the entire chest cavity, which can severely compromise breathing, even though the lung tissue inside the chest is fine.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »