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Atelectasis

Partial lung collapse

Atelectasis is the collapse of part or, much less commonly, all of a lung.

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Bronchoscopy
Lungs
Respiratory system

Causes

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.

Atelectasis is common after surgery or in people who are or were in the hospital.

Risk factors for developing atelectasis include:

Symptoms

Symptoms may include any of the following:

There are no symptoms if atelectasis is mild.

Exams and Tests

To confirm if you have atelectasis, the following tests will likely be done to view the lungs and airways:

Treatment

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:

Outlook (Prognosis)

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.

Possible Complications

Pneumonia may develop quickly after atelectasis in the affected part of the lung.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider right away if you develop symptoms of atelectasis.

Prevention

To prevent atelectasis:

Related Information

Breathing difficulties - first aid
Collapsed lung (pneumothorax)
Lung disease
Tumor
Community-acquired pneumonia in adults

References

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.

Nagji AS, Jolissaint JS, Lau CL. Atelectasis. In: Kellerman RD, Rakel DP, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2021. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021: 850-850.

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.

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Review Date: 8/3/2020  

Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron, Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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