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Jonathan Rosenfeld

March 2, 2023

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A common complication, atelectasis, also known as partial lung collapse, can occur in patients after surgery. After surgery or treatment, suffering from a collapsed lung can also lead to other life-threatening complications.

A doctor must monitor and act quickly if a patient shows symptoms of this medical condition. A medical professional who fails to perform these duties is negligent and should be held accountable.

Iatrogenic Pneumothorax Malpractice

If you or a loved one has suffered from atelectasis due to negligence, you should consult with an attorney. Our personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC have decades of experience handling severe, complex cases.

Contact our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers at (888) 424-5757, and we will schedule a free case review of your potential iatrogenic pneumothorax malpractice case with one of our experienced lawyers.

What Is Atelectasis?

Atelectasis is a condition that involves either a complete or partial collapse of the lung. This condition occurs when there is an airway blockage (obstructive) or if there is pressure on the lung (nonobstructive).

A lung collapse will not allow alveoli, or air sacs, to fill with oxygen. Therefore, this area of the lung cannot function.

Difference Between Atelectasis and Pneumothorax

Atelectasis may be confused with pneumothorax because they are similar in that both involve a collapse of lung areas. The difference between each is the cause of the symptoms.

Atelectasis is caused either by an obstruction or if something is putting pressure on the lung. Pneumothorax occurs when air escapes from the chest cavity due to a puncture.

How Atelectasis Can Occur

Most cases of atelectasis involve patients who have undergone surgery or are in the hospital. Some of the common ways a person can develop atelectasis are listed below.

Anesthesia and Surgery

General anesthesia is one of the most common causes of atelectasis. It occurs for many people who have undergone major surgery due to this treatment to induce unconsciousness.

Anesthesia hampers normal breathing and stifles the urge to cough. After chest or abdominal surgery, it could hurt to breathe in deeply or push air out. Mucus may build up in the lungs.

Anesthesia can affect a patient’s regular breathing pattern and the exchange of lung gases. A patient under anesthesia may be unable to clear out their air passages with a cough or deep breath.

Mucus Plugs

A mucus buildup in the lung’s airways may cause a mucus plug. This complication can occur during surgery if a patient is unable to cough. The medical staff may also suction the lungs to help clear them.

Foreign Object Blocking the Airway

Accidentally inhaling an object can block a lung’s airway causing a person to have shallow breathing. Atelectasis is common in children who are more likely to inhale a foreign object.

Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion is pressure on a lung caused by fluid buildup between the inside of the chest wall and the lungs. Fluid can build up in this area due to poor pumping by the heart or inflammation.

Lung Scarring

Scarring in the lungs can occur due to lung diseases, surgery, inhaling toxic chemicals, or an injury.

Prolonged Bed Rest

Fluid tends to build up in the lungs more quickly because the muscles are not working as hard to remove excess fluid. When an area of the lung has collapsed, there is a reduced area for gaseous exchange.

Tumors Can Cause Atelectasis

A tumor that is inside the airway can narrow the breathing pipe. Pressure on a lung caused by a tumor can also lead to atelectasis.

What Are Other Risk Factors for Developing Atelectasis

Many factors can cause atelectasis in a patient. Some of the risk factors that may increase a person’s chance of developing atelectasis are:

  • Older age
  • Lung disease and other lung conditions
  • When breathing causes pain
  • Muscle weakness after surgery
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Ventilator use prevents a person from coughing
  • An injury that makes breathing and coughing painfully

Symptoms of Atelectasis

There are cases of atelectasis where a person does not have any symptoms. A patient with a more severe case of atelectasis will develop signs that reveal lung function is declining.

Some of the signs of atelectasis can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Painful breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Shallow breathing

How to Prevent Atelectasis

Atelectasis is common in many patients that undergo surgery or are under hospital care, but there are ways to help prevent having this condition. There are precautions that the medical staff takes to ensure a patient does not suffer from atelectasis.

Patients may also be directed to follow instructions that aid in prevention. Medical staff should encourage movement and breathing deeply.

These activities are essential for those in critical care and confined to bed due to an illness or injury. Encouraging patients to maintain deep breathing after anesthesia is also effective in preventing atelectasis.

Anesthesia will relax and numb the body, so directing a patient to take deep breaths will allow the lungs to receive more oxygen. Pain medication is another way to prevent atelectasis in patients who find it painful to breathe normally.

Medication can decrease pain and allow deep breathing to avoid atelectasis.

Possible Complications Associated With Atelectasis

Atelectasis in a person suffering from an already severe illness, such as lung disease, can cause further serious complications. If both lungs have collapsed, a patient may be placed in critical care to give support to the respiratory tract.

Some of the possible complications that can result from atelectasis are:

  • Pneumonia: A patient is at high risk of developing pneumonia because the mucus in the collapsed lung can lead to infection.
  • Respiratory failure: Losing a lung lobe or entire lung can lead to death.
  • Low blood oxygen: A patient can develop hypoxemia, a low oxygen level in the blood. Atelectasis can lead to the lungs being unable to pump enough oxygen into the blood.

Deep Breathing Exercises & Treatment for Atelectasis

Most of the time, atelectasis will resolve without any treatment. A licensed physician may perform a physical exam and chest X-ray to determine the underlying cause and severity.

The following treatments aid in re-expanding the collapsed lung tissue in a patient.

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Inhaled medicines to open the airway
  • Staying physically active
  • Physiotherapy includes tapping on the chest to loosen mucus plugs and lying on one side.
  • Tilting the body so the head is lower than the chest to help drain mucus is called postural drainage
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine helps to increase positive pressure in the airways

When a patient undergoes surgery, it is critical to monitor the patient carefully to avoid atelectasis. Any symptoms of atelectasis should also be treated by a physician right away.

If atelectasis is left untreated due to negligence, the condition can lead to life-threatening consequences. Most people will have a very good outcome from treatment, but a person with extensive cancer or another underlying disease may experience a difficult recovery.

Speak With a Medical Negligence Attorney Related to Chicago Iatrogenic Pneumothorax Malpractice

If you or a loved one has suffered from atelectasis or a complication that resulted from this condition due to negligence, you should seek representation. A doctor who failed to monitor or act quickly to avoid a collapsed lung should be held responsible.

You may be able to recover damages caused by the defendant’s negligence. Consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to review your options.

Our Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC legal team will provide the best possible representation in your medical malpractice case. We can answer any questions you may have and guide you through the process.

Our Chicago law group has served thousands of clients who have been hurt due to medical negligence. Call us at (888) 424-5757, and we will schedule a free case review with one of our experienced medical malpractice lawyers.

All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team remains private through an attorney-client relationship.


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