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Collapsed Lung
(Pneumothorax)

Collapsed Lung Overview

A collapsed lung refers to a condition in which the space between the wall of the chest cavity and the lung itself fills with air, causing all or a portion of the lung to collapse. Air usually enters this space, called the pleural space, through an injury to the chest wall or a hole in the lung. This result is called a pneumothorax.

There are two types of pneumothorax, tension and simple.

Tension pneumothorax

  • This refers to a condition in which air builds up under pressure and usually totally collapses one or both of the lungs. This causes severe dysfunction of the cardiovascular system.
  • The pressure built up in the lung cavity slows or stops the return of blood to the heart from the veins. Because the heart has less blood available to pump into the main arteries, blood pressure drops, and other vital organs are rapidly affected.
  • In an affected person does not receive emergency treatment, death may result.

Simple pneumothorax

  • In a simple pneumothorax, there is usually only partial collapse of a lung. The pressure built up in the lung cavity is not enough to cause cardiovascular dysfunction.
  • The collapsed lung may be severe enough to lead to decreased amounts of oxygen in the blood, causing the patient to feel short of breath.
  • This type of pneumothorax can be small and "stable", and not require emergency treatment. However, the pneumothorax may slowly or rapidly progress to cause more severe cardiovascular impairment and may often need to be monitored.

Picture of Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/9/2012

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Pneumothorax »

Pneumothorax is defined as the presence of air or gas in the pleural cavity.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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