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.
Another type of collapsed lung is called pneumothorax. It 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 patients who were in the hospital.
Risk factors for developing atelectasis include:
The goal of treatment is to re-expand the collapsed lung tissue. If fluid is putting pressure on the lung, removing the fluid may allow the lung to expand.
Treatments for atelectasis 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, especially 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 have a poor prognosis, while patients with simple atelectasis after surgery have a good prognosis.
Call your health care provider right away if you develop symptoms of atelectasis.
O'Donnell AE. Bronchiectasis, atelectasis, cysts, and localized lung disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 90.
Last reviewed on: 8/25/2014
Reviewed by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, 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, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.