Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery
by Rebecca J. Stahl, MA
VATS is a type of chest surgery that requires making tiny openings in the chest. During VATS, the doctor makes small, keyhole incisions and uses a tiny camera (called a thoracoscope) and other small tools. Images from the camera are sent to TV monitors. The doctor relies on these images to do the surgery.
Reasons for Procedure TOP
VATS is used to diagnose and treat a range of conditions. Common reasons to undergo VATS include:
Compared to traditional procedures, VATS may result in:
Possible Complications TOP
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
Depending on the reason for your surgery, your doctor may do the following:
Leading up to the surgery:
General anesthesia will be given—you will be asleep during the procedure
Description of the Procedure TOP
You will be connected to a ventilator. This is a machine that moves air in and out of your lungs. Depending on the reason you are having VATS, one lung will be completely or partly deflated. This will allow your doctor to have a better view of the chest cavity on that side.
Several small cuts in the skin will be made along your side. Carbon dioxide gas will be used to fill the chest cavity. The gas will make it easier for the doctor to see internal structures. Through one of the incisions, the doctor will insert the thoracoscope. This camera will send images to the TV monitors. The doctor will rely on these images to do the surgery. Other small tools will be inserted into the cuts. These tools will allow the doctor to grasp, cut, dissect, and suture.
When the surgery is done, the tools will be removed. The lung will be inflated. A chest tube will be placed to drain any air or fluid. The doctor will close the incisions with sutures or staples.
Immediately After Procedure TOP
If you are doing well, the breathing tube will be removed. In the recovery room, the hospital staff will monitor your vital signs. You may be given fluids and medications through an IV.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
1-2 hours (depending on the procedure)
How Much Will It Hurt? TOP
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital Stay TOP
You may be able to go home the next day. If you have VATS for a lobectomy (removal of part of the lung), the usual length of stay is 3-4 days.
Post-procedure Care TOP
At the Hospital
While you are recovering at the hospital, you may receive the following care:
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection such as:
You will need to limit specific activities, but encouraged to walk daily. Follow instructions on wound care to prevent infection. Your doctor may advise pain medications to relieve discomfort. You may need to continue with deep breathing exercises to keep your lungs clear.
Call Your Doctor TOP
Call your doctor if any of these occur:
Call for emergency medical services right away for:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Thoracic Society
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery
The Lung Association
Post-operative minimally invasive (robotic or thoracoscopic) lung surgery instructions. University of Southern California Division of Surgery website. Available at:
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Accessed March 27, 2018.
Video-assisted thoracic surgery. Harvard Health Publications website. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diagnostic-tests/video-assisted-thoracic-surgery.htm. Updated August 2014. Accessed March 27, 2018.
Video-assisted thorascopic surgery (VATS). Rush University Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.rush.edu/services/test-treatment/video-assisted-thoracoscopic-surgery-vats. Accessed March 27, 2018.
6/2/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Donald W. Buck II, MD
Last Updated: 6/20/2013
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