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Problems after surgery

There is a risk of problems or complications after any operation. You might have one or more of these problems. Let your doctor or nurse know if you feel unwell or are worried.

Feeling tired and weak

Most people feel weak and lack strength for some time afterwards. How long this lasts varies.

Tell your doctor or nurse if the weakness continues for more than a few weeks. They can suggest things to help, such as physiotherapy.

Infections

It is possible, although not common, to develop an infection of the wound site or of the lung itself. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of the following symptoms. They can be a sign of infection:

  • feeling generally unwell
  • shivering
  • feeling hot and cold - with a temperature
  • feeling sick
  • swelling or redness around your wound

Breathlessness

Some breathlessness is normal after lung surgery.  This depends on the type of operation you have had and how fit and well you normally are. If you had breathing problems before the operation, you might still have some problems afterwards.

Once at home, you might still get breathless when you are getting dressed or going up the stairs for example. But this generally settles down when you rest.

Many people worry that they won't be able to breathe properly if they have had part of a lung removed, or a whole lung removed. But the remaining lung usually adapts and breathing should improve over time.

Long term problems

While some people find that their breathing improves as they recover, other people might have long term problems. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage this. You could ask to be referred to a breathlessness clinic.

Contact your GP or medical team immediately if your breathing becomes very difficult. Also speak to your medical team or GP if your breathlessness is getting worse or it is not improving. They might want to check you for other possible causes of breathlessness, such as an infection.

Long term pain

Some people find they have pain that lasts for a long time after surgery. The pain is from damage to nerves during the operation. The pain often runs along the operation scar. For most people it gradually reduces over a couple of years as the nerves repair themselves. But for some people it may continue for longer.

Nerve pain can be difficult to get under control. It is important to let your specialist nurse or surgeon know if you are in pain. They can refer you to a pain clinic for specialist help. 

Commonly used painkillers don't always help nerve pain. But there are other medicines your doctor can prescribe. Some types of anti epileptic drugs and anti depressants work very well at controlling this type of pain. Other ways of controlling pain can also work well, such as nerve blocks.

There is a lot of support available to you if you have long term pain.

Swimming after surgery to remove your lung (pneumonectomy)

These days it’s unusual to have surgery to remove the whole of one lung (a pneumonectomy). But if you have had all or most of your lung removed you may have difficulty swimming afterwards, even if you were a strong swimmer beforehand. This is because only having one lung can affect how well you float in water (buoyancy).

Talk to your surgeon about whether you are fit enough to go swimming, once you have recovered from your operation. Be careful when you first go in the water and have someone with you in case you get into difficulty. You may need to use floats to help you.

Any other problems

Let your doctor or specialist nurse know about any problems you have after your surgery so that they can help you.

Information and help