Last updated: October 30, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Atelectasis is a loss of lung volume that may be caused by a variety of ventilation disorders, for instance, bronchial injury or an obstructive mass such as a tumor. It may be categorized as obstructive, nonobstructive, postoperative, or rounded. Clinical features depend on the severity and extent of atelectasis, ranging from no symptoms to respiratory distress. Physical examination reveals a dull note on percussion and diminished breathing sounds over the affected area. On x-ray, the atelectatic section of the lung appears condensed and, due to decreased lung volume, may extend to the surrounding tissue. This effect can lead to an elevated diaphragm and mediastinal shift to the affected side. Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Complications of atelectasis include pneumonia or, depending on the extent of disease, respiratory failure.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon


Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon

Pulmonary sequestration

  • Definition: a rare congenital malformation in which a mass of nonfunctional pulmonary tissue has no connection to the bronchial tree and does not participate in gaseous exchange
  • Types
    • Intrapulmonary: surrounded by normal lobar tissue
    • Extrapulmonary: located outside the normal lung with its own pleura
  • Clinical features
    • Usually asymptomatic
    • Symptoms begin in the neonatal period as respiratory distress (especially with extrapulmonary type) or as chronic or recurrent cough in early childhood (usually intrapulmonary type).
  • Imaging: X-ray or CT showing a solid, isolated lesion in the thoracic cavity.
  • Treatment: surgical resection if cases of recurrent infection or symptomatic compression of normal lung tissue

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

The risk of atelectasis after surgery can be avoided by prescribing opioids in doses that are sufficient for pain relief, as well as encouraging the use of incentive spirometry. At the same time, opioids should be used with caution due to their suppression on coughing. Smoking should be avoided 6–8 weeks prior to surgery.


Complicationstoggle arrow icon

We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

Prevention of post-operative atelectasistoggle arrow icon

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Atelectasis. Updated: January 26, 2017. Accessed: January 26, 2017.
  2. Woodring JH, Reed JC. Types and mechanisms of pulmonary atelectasis. J Thorac Imaging. 1996; 11 (2): p.92-108.
  3. O’Donohue WJ. Prevention and Treatment of Postoperative Atelectasis. Chest. 1985; 87 (1): p.1-2.doi: 10.1378/chest.87.1.1 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  4. Proto AV, Tocino I. Radiographic manifestations of lobar collapse. Semin Roentgenol. 1980; 15 (2): p.117-173.
  5. Mironov AV, Pinchuk TP, Selina IE, Kosolapov DA. Emergency fiberoptic bronchoscopy for diagnostics and treatment of lung atelectasis [Article in Russian]. Anesteziol Reanimatol. 2013; 6: p.51-54.
  6. Atelectasis. Updated: July 1, 2013. Accessed: January 26, 2017.
  7. Restrepo RD, Braverman J. Current challenges in the recognition, prevention and treatment of perioperative pulmonary atelectasis. Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine. 2014; 9 (1): p.97-107.doi: 10.1586/17476348.2015.996134 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  8. Schnapf BM. Pediatric Pulmonary Sequestration. In: Sharma GD, Pediatric Pulmonary Sequestration. New York, NY: WebMD. Updated: November 2, 2016. Accessed: January 26, 2017.

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