Atelectasis is a collapse of the air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. It may occur in a portion of the lung, or in the entire lung. Normally, oxygen enters the body through the lungs and is exchanged with carbon dioxide in the alveoli. The lungs expand and contract to create the exchange of these gases. Atelectasis is not a disease, but a condition or sign that results from disease or abnormalities in the lungs.
Atelectasis is caused by a:
- Blockage of the airway
- Reduced amount of surfactant, a liquid that keeps the lungs expanded
Blockage may be caused by:
- Tumors, mucus, or a foreign object in the lungs
Compression, resulting from
, an enlarged heart, or a tumor
Scarring that blocks the airway as a result of
, frequent infections, or disease
(leakage of air into the space surrounding the lungs)
Reduced amounts of surfactant may be caused by:
- Lung immaturity in premature babies
- Fluid accumulation
- Failure to take deep breaths
- Not coughing, which keeps the airway clear
Atelectasis is a collapse of the air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. It may occur in a portion of the lung, or in the entire lung. Normally, oxygen enters the body through the lungs and is exchanged with carbon dioxide in the alveoli. The lungs expand and contract to create the exchange of these gases.
Atelectasis is not a disease, but a condition or sign that results from disease or abnormalities in the lungs.
The Lungs (Cut-away View) Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This may include listening to your lungs for changes in the normal sounds.
Tests may include:
Other tests may be needed to confirm or rule out the cause of the atelectasis.
To help reduce your chance of atelectasis, take these steps.
If you need to, talk to your doctor about the best ways to
- If you have a chronic lung or heart condition, follow the treatment plan outlined by your doctor.
- After surgery, follow instructions for deep breathing, coughing, and turning. Ask for pain medication if discomfort is limiting movement or coughing.
Factors that may increase your chance for atelectasis include:
- Premature birth if lungs are not fully developed
- Restricted chest movement, due to bone or muscle problems, or recent abdominal surgery
- Prolonged bed rest with few changes in position
- Mechanical ventilation
Lung diseases, such as
- Weakened respiratory muscles
- Heart failure
Conditions that limit physical activity, such as
, spinal cord injury, heart problems,
, or severe illness
Atelectasis may or may not cause symptoms. Small areas of collapse are less likely than larger areas to cause symptoms. Major atelectasis decreases the amount of oxygen available throughout the body.
Symptoms that may occur if a large area has collapsed include:
- Rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Taking shallow breaths
- Decreased chest movement during breathing
- Mild fever
- Rapid heart rate
- Chest pain
- Blueness of the lips or nails
Treatment focuses on treating the underlying cause and maintaining enough air supply. The collapsed lung usually expands after the underlying cause has been corrected. Mild atelectasis often goes away on its own without treatment.