Chest pain should always be taken seriously, especially if you have recently had surgery.
However, chest pain can mean you have a heart attack and then have pain right in your chest. Understanding the differences is the key to protecting your health and full recovery.
The good news is that chest pain after surgery isn’t always a life-threatening emergency.
Depending on the type of surgery you have, chest pain may be a normal part of the healing process, especially if your incision is in the chest area. Chest pain can also be due to:
- Lung disease
Types of chest pain
The most important type of chest pain you should know is the type of chest pain that can be a sign of a life-threatening heart problem.
This type of chest pain is not caused by surgical pain, but by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle or a blood clot in the lungs.
Whether the pain is caused by a heart or lung problem, it is a very serious problem and must be treated immediately to prevent further injury or even death.
Signs of life-threatening chest pain
Never ignore this type of chest pain. Call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately if you experience:
- Moderate to severe chest pain/pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- shortness of breath
- activity increases pain
- pain that spreads to the neck or jaw
- arm pain, especially on the left side
- Pain radiating from the chest to the back
- feeling of doom or fear
- Sudden onset of symptoms for no apparent reason
People with diabetes, other types of medical conditions that may reduce pain, or people who take prescription pain relievers may experience milder chest pain during a heart attack.While this is rare, keep in mind that some people experience much less chest pain than others during a cardiac event.
after blood clot
If you have a blood clot after surgery, called deep vein thrombosis or DVT, you have a higher risk of the blood clot moving to the lungs,This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE) and is very serious.
If you are diagnosed with a blood clot (DVT), always treat chest pain as a serious complication unless proven otherwise. Seeking emergency treatment is the best course of action. At the very least, surgeons should be aware of new chest pain symptoms.
Overview of Deep Vein Thrombosis
If you have had chest surgery, expect some degree of chest pain. The difference is that this type of pain is surgical pain that occurs in the chest area, not chest pain caused by a serious problem with the heart or lungs.
Expect chest pain if:
- you have an incision in your chest
- you have had surgery on your heart or lungs or heart, especially if your breastbone is cut open as in open heart surgery
- you have a chest tube placed
Often, surgery-related chest pain doesn’t cause the same symptoms as life-threatening heart or lung problems.
While deep breathing can be painful, it’s usually only severe when something moves the chest wall, such as coughing or sneezing, or doing physical activity. (Ask your healthcare provider how to relieve pain from coughing or sneezing.)
If you have a chest tube, your pain can be severe, especially when taking deep breaths or directly around the chest tube placement site. This is normal and most chest tubes are temporary – pain usually improves after extubation.
Symptoms of chest pain associated with surgery include:
- Pain that worsens with chest movement
- Pain that gets worse when you sneeze or cough
- Pain that worsens when you take a deep breath
- Gradually less pain as recovery continues
- Improve pain with over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen
- no difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain that worsens when you lift your arm over your head
what to do
If you have chest pain, take these symptoms seriously. The presence of surgical chest pain doesn’t mean you won’t also have life-threatening chest pain. If you’re concerned that your pain isn’t just due to surgical healing, seek medical care right away.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it normal to have difficulty breathing after surgery?
It may be difficult to take a deep breath after surgery because you feel weak and sore. The pain may be worse if you have had chest or abdominal surgery. However, despite this discomfort, it is important to practice deep breathing. If you avoid coughing or take deep breaths, the mucus that needs to be removed from the airways can get trapped, which can lead to infection.
How do I know if I have a blood clot after surgery?
Often, a blood clot causes swelling in the area where the blood clot was located. You may have pain or tenderness and discoloration in your leg. If the clot moves to your lungs and develops a pulmonary embolism, you may experience sudden chest pain and shortness of breath. If you think you have a blood clot, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Is chest pain normal after surgery?
Chest pain is common. Even if your surgery isn’t near your chest, you may experience muscle soreness from lying on the operating table, or because you can’t breathe deeply after surgery. Call your doctor if your pain cannot be treated with medication, or if the pain lasts longer than the surgeon estimates.