President Clinton scheduled to undergo surgical procedure

Former President Bill Clinton’s office today announced that Clinton will undergo a surgical procedure Thursday at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center to remove scar tissue and fluid from his left chest cavity. The surgery is called decortication, and is done to remove scar tissue and fluid build up that can be a complication of coronary artery bypass surgery. Clinton underwent quadruple bypass surgery in September.

It is not uncommon for there to be some fluid build up (a condition called pleural effusion) in the chest cavity after surgery, according to Hartzell Schaff, M.D., professor of surgery, Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., and an American Heart Association spokesperson. It occurs in about 5 percent to10 percent of heart surgery patients, he said. A 2002 study in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that pleural effusion in the United States occurs in 60,000 coronary artery bypass surgery patients annually.

Most of the time, the body reabsorbs the fluid, Schaff said. Less than one percent of those patients require additional surgery to correct it.

If there is fluid alone, physicians can remove the fluid with a needle. However, if the fluid buildup is chronic, scar tissue can form a wall around a portion of the lung and interfere with lung expansion. This may cause the patient to experience shortness of breath.

“The risks of President Clinton’s first surgery were very low – less than 2 percent risk of death. The risk of this surgery is even lower – less than 1 percent,” Schaff said. That risk is primarily related to the small risk that is present any time an individual has general anesthesia.

After surgery, patients typically “make a full recovery and have no limitations in the future,” Schaff said.

The condition rarely reoccurs.

From American Heart Association

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