Minimal Dependent Atelectasis

by Ian Rankin


Atelectasis is a medical condition that occurs when your lung or a part of your lung fails to expand properly. Your lung has a bunch of small grape-like sacs known as the alveoli. The alveoli expand when you breathe in and get deflated with you breathe out. There are some factors due to which the alveoli may remain collapsed even when you inhale. Minimal dependant atelectasis is a problem in which only a small portion of your lung collapses and therefore, it is not as serious as regular atelectasis. This condition usually affects the alveoli in the lower part of your lungs.

While anyone can suffer from minimal dependent atelectasis, this problem is more likely to occur in those who are elderly or bedridden. Staying in the same position for long periods of time often leads to poor ventilation of the lungs. Patients who are on bed rest after having undergone a surgery may also develop atelectasis or dependant atelectasis if they are not made to move about every hour or so. The risks of this condition are also much higher in people who are severely overweight, since their lungs don't expand properly when they stay in one position for a long time. Some of the other factors that could lead to atelectasis include -

  • Abnormal growths, like tumors or fibroids, in the airways
  • Accumulation of excessive mucus or fluid in the chest
  • Bleeding in the lungs or the presence of blood clots in the lungs
  • A foreign body getting lodged in the airways (especially in the case of little kids)
  • Infections and diseases such as tuberculosis that constrict the airways
  • Pleural effusion
  • Reaction to anesthetic drugs
  • Scarring in the lung tissue
  • Shallow breathing
  • Smoking or excessive exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Trauma or injuries to the chest area

Some of the causes of atelectasis are quite serious and need to be addressed by medical professionals immediately. Therefore, it is essential that you consult a doctor as soon as you realize that you are suffering from any form of atelectasis.

Many people only realize that they are suffering from this condition when they experience shortness of breath. However, you may also notice some of the other signs and symptoms of atelectasis, such as -

  • Sharp, stinging pain in the chest
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Productive or unproductive coughing

Since minimal dependent atelectasis affects only a small part of the lungs, the symptoms are generally not too severe. Most patients only become aware of the condition when they undergo an imaging test to rule out the possibility for another medical condition. In case you do experience these symptoms, your doctor may conduct a physical exam, before asking you to undergo tests like an x-ray, an ultrasound or a CT scan of the chest.

The findings of the tests will help your doctor determine the appropriate treatment path. Many instances of minimal dependent atelectasis do not require any treatment, as the problem gets resolved on its own.

  • In case the atelectasis is caused by a blockage, you will need to undergo a medical procedure known as a bronchoscopy.
  • Chest physiotherapy is also quite effective in treating atelectasis. Your doctor will show you deep breathing techniques which should get your lungs to expand.
  • When lying down, you may be asked to ensure that your head is below the level of your heart. This causes the mucus to drain away from the bottom of your lungs.
  • If required, your doctor may prescribe a few medicines, to address the causes and symptoms of atelectasis. These usually include pain relievers, inhaled bronchodilators and acetylcysteine.

Though minimal dependent atelectasis is not a serious condition, it should be checked and treated by a doctor without any delay.

References

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/atelectasis/DS01170


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