Diseases & Conditions


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Collapsed lung


The lungs are made of delicate tissue A collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, involves the collapse of the tissues of part or all of one lung so that oxygen cannot be absorbed into the blood stream in the normal way. If the oxygen supply to the vital organs is seriously diminished, life will be put at risk. Death can occur within minutes. In George Harrison's case, the condition was caused by air escaping into the chest, and preventing the lung from inflating. Each time the patient takes a breath, the problem gets worse. Harrison was lucky, the knife wound only penetrated about one inch, and tissue damage was not as severe as it could have been. Doctors were able to treat him successfully by draining escaped air away from his chest. This was down by inserting a tube called a chest drain to allow air to escape from the chest cavity. Symptoms A sudden, major collapse of the lung causes: Chest pain Shortness of breath Rapid breathing Shock (severe weakness, paleness of skin, rapid heartbeat) Dizziness A more gradual minor collapes causes a cough and fever. Causes In the case of George Harrison, the tissues of the lung were directly damaged by a knife. More usually, the condition is caused by an obstruction of the small or large lung air passages. This can be caused by: Thick mucus plugs from infection or other disease Tumors in the air passages Tumors or blood vessels outside the air passages, causing pressure on airways Inhaled objects, such as small toys or peanuts Prolonged chest or abdominal surgery with general anaesthetic Chest injury or fractured ribs Risk factors The main risk factors for collapsed lung are: Smoking Illness that has lowered resistance or weakened the patient Chronic obstructive lung disease, including emphysema and bronchiectasis Use of drugs that depress alertness or consciousness, such as sedatives, barbiturates, tranquilizers, or alcohol Complications Complications can include pneumonia, small lung abcess and permanent scarring of the lung tissue. A collapsed lung caused by a physical injury such as a stab wound may also be associated with bleeding into the chest cavity. Infections may also result from the wound because the weapons are generally not sterile.