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Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery



A video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) is when a doctor uses a tiny scope and small cuts to do surgery inside the chest. Pictures from the camera are sent to a video screen to help guide surgery.

Reasons for Procedure

This surgery may be done to:

  • Diagnose and treat lung cancer, such as with a lymph node biopsy
  • Remove diseased lung sections or lobes
  • Diagnose lung infections
  • Treat a collapsed lung
  • Drain fluid out of the chest cavity
  • Diagnose and treat problems with the thymus gland
Lung Cancer.

http://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=25132513si1497.jpgLung CancerNULLjpgLung CancerNULL\\filer01\Intellect\images\si1497.jpgCopyright © 2002 Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.18NULL2002-10-01255391Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

The benefits of this type of surgery are:

  • Less scarring
  • Less trauma to the body
  • Faster recovery
  • Less time in the hospital

Possible Complications

Problems from video-assisted surgeries are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Collection of air or gases in the lung cavity
  • Collapsed lung
  • Damage to nearby organs or structures
  • The need to switch to open surgery

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

What to Expect

Problems to Look Out For

Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from a wound
  • Been coughing up yellow, green, or bloody mucus
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • New chest pain
  • Pain or swelling in your feet, calves, or legs
  • Lasting nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • New or unexpected symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

Prior to Procedure

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Arranging for a ride to and from surgery
  • Tests that will need to be done before surgery, such as lung function tests and imaging


General anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep.

Sometimes the doctor may use nerve blocks or epidural anesthesia. Pain will be blocked in the area, but you will be awake.

Description of the Procedure

You will be connected to a machine that will help you breathe. Depending on the surgery you are having, one lung will be fully or partly deflated. This will help the doctor view the area better.

Several small cuts will be made along your side. A needle will be used to inject gas into the chest cavity. This will make it easier to see inside the body. A scope with a small camera on the end will be passed through one of the cuts. The camera will display the area on a video screen. Other small tools will be inserted into the other cuts to do the surgery.

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 cuts with sutures or staples. They will be covered with bandages.

How Long Will It Take?

About 1 to 2 hours. It depends on the type of surgery.

Will It Hurt?

It depends on the surgery, but pain and swelling are common in the first 2 weeks. Medicine and home care can help.

Average Hospital Stay

The usual length of stay is one day, but it depends on the reason for surgery. If you have any problems, you may need to stay longer.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

Right after the procedure, the staff may:

  • Give you pain medicine
  • Teach you how to do deep breathing and coughing exercises

During your stay, staff will take steps to lower your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your wounds covered

You can also lower your chance of infection by:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
  • Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
  • Not letting others touch your wounds

At Home

Activities will be limited during recovery. You may need to ask for help with daily activities and delay your return to work. It will take a few weeks to heal.





  • Parapneumonic effusion and empyema in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/parapneumonic-effusion-and-empyema-in-adults.
  • Video-assisted thorascopic surgery (VATS). Rush University Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.rush.edu/treatments/video-assisted-thoracoscopic-surgery-vats.


  • James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.