What is the primary cause of atelectasis?

Updated: Oct 22, 2020
  • Author: Tarun Madappa, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Nader Kamangar, MD, FACP, FCCP, FCCM  more...
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The primary cause of acute or chronic atelectasis is bronchial obstruction by the following:

  • Plugs of tenacious sputum

  • Foreign bodies

  • Endobronchial tumors

  • Tumors, a lymph node, or an aneurysm compressing the bronchi and bronchial distortion

External pulmonary compression by pleural fluid or air (ie, pleural effusion, pneumothorax) may also cause atelectasis.

Abnormalities of surfactant production contribute to alveolar instability and may result in atelectasis. These abnormalities commonly occur with oxygen toxicity and ARDS.

Conditions that may increase the risk of developing atelectasis include smoking, obesity, sleep apnea, or lung diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or cystic fibrosis.

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