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What're the symptoms of atelectasis?

Symptoms and signs of atelectasis depend on how rapidly the bronchus is blocked, how much of the lung is affected, what the precipitating factor was, and whether infection is present. Common symptoms of atelectasis include shortness of breath and decreased chest wall expansion. If atelectasis only afects a small area of the lung, symptoms are ususally minimal. If

the condition affects a large area of the lung and develops quickly, the individual may turn blue (cyanotic) or pale, have extreme shortness of breath, and feel a stabbing pain on the affected side. Fever and increased heart rate may be present if infection accompanies.

The loss of functioning lung tissue leads to shortness of breath. The persistence of blood flow through the collapsed area leads to a decrease in the blood oxygen level - the heart rate increases, and sometimes the person may look bluish (a condition called cyanosis). When blockage happens quickly and a lot of lung tissue is affected, a person may become blue or ashen in color, have sharp pain on the affected side, and have sudden and extreme shortness of breath. Widespread atelectasis resulting from deficient or ineffective surfactant produces shortness of breath; rapid, shallow breathing; a low blood oxygen level; and other symptoms depending on the cause of the acute lung injury (for example, fever and low blood pressure from sepsis) and any accompanying effects of low blood oxygen (such as abnormal heart rhythms) on organs other than the lung.

Slowly developing atelectasis may cause no symptoms or only minor ones, such as shortness of breath or an increased heart rate. People with middle lobe syndrome and rounded atelectasis may have no symptoms, although some people with middle lobe syndrome have a hacking cough or develop pneumonia that resolves slowly or incompletely. The middle lobe syndrome is also often asymptomatic, although a severe, hacking, nonproductive cough may result from irritation in the right lower and middle lobe bronchi. Acute pneumonia, usually with delayed, incomplete resolution, may develop. Diffuse microatelectasis, an early manifestation of O2 toxicity and the adult and neonatal respiratory distress syndromes, produces dyspnea; rapid, shallow respirations; arterial hypoxemia; decreased lung compliance; and reduced lung volume.


More information on atelectasis

What is atelectasis? - Atelectasis is the collapse of part or all of a lung by blockage of the air passages, or by very shallow breathing.
What causes atelectasis? - The most common cause of atelectasis is an obstruction of a large bronchus. Adhesive or congenital atelectasis results from the lack of surfactant.
What're the symptoms of atelectasis? - Symptoms and signs of atelectasis include shortness of breath and decreased chest wall expansion.
How is atelectasis diagnosed? - Atelectasis is diagnosed by a person's symptoms, the physical examination findings, and the setting in which the symptoms occurred.
What's the treatment for atelectasis? - The goal of treatment for atelectasis is to remove pulmonary (lung) secretions and re-expand the affected lung tissue.
How to prevent atelectasis? - Breathing exercises and the use of breathing devices, such as an incentive spirometer, may help prevent atelectasis.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005