Basilar Atelectasis

by Garreth Myers

Basilar atelectasis or simply atelectasis is the collapse of either the entire or part of the lung due to some obstruction or blockage. Its definition is derived from the Greek words that mean incomplete extension. Basilar atelectasis is a condition in which the bottom portion of the lung or some parts of the bottom lung is collapsed, this results in what is known as bibasilar scarring of that portion of the lung.

Bibasilar subsegmental atelectasis is the collapse or compression of one part of the lung, distal to a blocked bronchus (airway inside the lungs that carries in air).

What Happens in Basilar Atelectasis?

In order to understand basilar atelectasis, one must understand how the lung works. All of us have a pair of lungs, a right one and a left one. The right lung has three partitions or lobes, whereas the left lung has only two. The lungs are lined with tiny air sacs called alveoli. These alveoli are filled with blood vessels and take part in what is known as 'gas exchange'.

In basilar atelectasis, the bottom of the lung collapses due to an obstruction, resulting in an inability to take part in the gas exchange which occurs in the lungs.

What Exactly is Gas Exchange?

When we breathe in air, it goes through our nose to the wind pipe and then to the lungs. In the lungs, the small air sacks get filled with air. The blood vessels in the lungs take in the oxygen from the air and leave out the carbon dioxide. This carbon-dioxide fills the air sacs and is expelled when we breathe out.

When a part of all of the lobes in the lungs collapse due to an obstruction, the air sacs are not able to get filled with air, and cannot complete the process of gas exchange, depleting the body of oxygen.

Usually basilar atelectasis affects only a small part of the lung and heals by itself, leaving only some bibasilar scarring behind. Sometimes atelectasis can affect an entire lobe or an entire lung, in this case, the disease is very serious and can lead to a lot of complications.

What Causes Bibasilar Atelectasis?

Bibasilar atelectasis can be caused due to a number of reasons, starting from obesity to obstruction of the airways. However, the most common reason for this problem is general anesthetics that are used during surgery, reducing the ability of the lungs to take in sufficient air.

Listed below are some of the common causes of bibasilar atelectasis:
  • General anesthesia used during surgery
  • Use of cough suppressants (these prevent the removal of the obstructions present in the lungs)
  • Obesity
  • Obstruction of the airway due to mucus, foreign bodies, or allergens
  • Shallow breathing
  • Lung diseases such as pneumonia or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Lung tumors
  • Increase in lung pressure
  • Injury to the chest.

Symptoms of Bibasilar Atelectasis

Bibasilar atelectasis affects only a small portion of the lungs and is usually asymptomatic. However, when the entire lung or a significant part of the lung compresses or collapses, there are many obvious symptoms. Let us take a look at them.
  • Slight fever
  • Difficulty in breathing, especially in the supine position
  • Difficulty in expanding the chest while breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Cough, expelling sputum
There are some additional symptoms that are experienced when a large area of the lung collapses. These include:
  • Skin pallor turns blue
  • Stabbing pain on the affected side
  • Extreme difficulty in breathing
  • Anxious state of mind
  • Increased heart rate.


Since this problem is most common in those who have recently undergone surgeries, it is necessary to quit smoking about two months before surgery, to help the lungs be able to take in as much air as possible when recuperating.
If the problem is due to an obstruction, removing the obstruction will be sufficient to cure the condition in most cases. If a large portion of the lung is affected, oxygen therapy may be required to help the lung get the oxygen it needs.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, consult a doctor immediately.


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