Cicatricial Atelectasis

by Sam Malone

Atelectasis is a medical condition where the lungs collapse either partially or completely. Cicatricial atelectasis is considered a fibrotic disorder and is treated with the same precautions and methods as other common forms of atelectasis. There are several different types of atelectasis, some of them are:

  • Resorptive Atelectasis: This is caused by obstruction in the airways
  • Relaxation Atelectasis: This occurs in patients with pneumothorax and pleural effusion
  • Adhesive Atelectasis: The alveoli in the lungs are kept open due to reduced surface tension
  • Round Atelectasis: The lung is devoid of air due to pleural disease
  • Cicatricial Atelectasis: This occurs when the alveoli gets trapped in scar tissue and causes a collapse in the lungs.
Atelectasis may be caused by blockages of the bronchioles in the lungs or if pressure is applied on the outside of the lungs. Most cases of atelectasis occur in post-surgery patients and those who have spent some time in hospital or confined to bed rest. Certain factors may increase a person’s chance of developing atelectasis. These include:

  • Anesthesia
  • The presence of a foreign object in the lung
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Mucus plugs that block the airways
  • Pleural effusion or pressure on the lungs caused by an increase of fluid in the pleural activity
  • Tumors
Symptoms of atelectasis include breathing difficulties, shortness of breath, chest pain and chronic cough. Apart from these symptoms, there is no other indication of atelectasis and so it becomes a little difficult to diagnose this disorder. In many cases, a person will discover that he has atelectasis only after a chest x-ray or CT scan. Since atelectasis is a common side effect of surgery and hospitalization, the lungs are monitored closely during this time.

In order to diagnose atelectasis, doctors will use tests such as chest x-rays, chest CT scans and a bronchoscopy to determine the extent of the collapse and the cause of the condition. Treatment of atelectasis may involve draining any extra fluid, relieving pressure on the lungs or removing any obstruction that has caused the collapse. Depending on the cause of the condition, treatment may include:

  • Clapping the chest to loosen mucus plugs and blockages
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Removing blockages by performing a bronchoscopy
  • Postural drainage that involves tilting the person forward so that the head is lower than the chest and the excess fluid drains out
  • Using inhaled medications to prevent shortness of breath
  • Turning the patient on the side to relieve pressure on the collapsed portion of the lungs
  • Using positive and expiratory pressure (PEP) devices to increase pressure in the lung and re-inflate the lung.
In most cases, atelectasis is not such a serious medical condition. In adults, the rest of the lungs can make up for any shortage of oxygen caused by the collapsed portion. In time and with the proper treatment, the lung re-inflates and complications are minimal. However, in cases where the area of collapse is large or complete, atelectasis can be life-threatening if not treated in time. In young children or infants, the condition may require hospitalization and immediate medical intervention. Long-term damage of atelectasis may include scarring of lung tissue. Atelectasis also increases the risk of developing pneumonia if not treated properly.


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