Partial lung collapse
Atelectasis is the collapse of part or, much less commonly, all of a lung.
Atelectasis is caused by a blockage of the air passages (bronchus or bronchioles) or by pressure on the outside of the lung.
Atelectasis is not the same as another type of collapsed lung called pneumothorax, which occurs when air escapes from the lung. The air then fills the space outside of the lung, between the lung and chest wall. In atelectasis, there is usually fluid between the lung and the chest wall and the air sacs within the lung fill with fluid.
Atelectasis is common after surgery or in people who are or were in the hospital.
Risk factors for developing atelectasis include:
Symptoms may include any of the following:
There are no symptoms if atelectasis is mild.
To confirm if you have atelectasis and determine its cause, the following tests will likely be done to view the lungs and airways:
The goal of treatment is to treat the underlying cause and re-expand the collapsed lung tissue. If fluid is putting pressure on the lung, removing the fluid may allow the lung to expand.
Treatments include one or more of the following:
In an adult, atelectasis in a small area of the lung is usually not life threatening. The rest of the lung can make up for the collapsed area, bringing in enough oxygen for the body to function.
Large areas of atelectasis may be life threatening, often in a baby or small child, or in someone who has another lung disease or illness.
The collapsed lung usually reinflates slowly if the airway blockage has been removed. Scarring or damage may remain.
The outlook depends on the underlying disease. For example, people with extensive cancer often don't do well, while those with simple atelectasis after surgery have a very good outcome.
Pneumonia may develop quickly after atelectasis in the affected part of the lung.
Contact your health care provider right away if you develop symptoms of atelectasis.
To prevent atelectasis:
Carlsen KH, Crowley S, Smevik B. Atelectasis. In: Wilmott RW, Deterding R, Li A, et al. Kendig's Disorders of the Respiratory Tract in Children. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 70.
O'Donnell. Bronchiectasis, atelectasis, cysts, and localized lung disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 84.
Rozenfeld RA. Atelectasis. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 437.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 7/31/2022
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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