What are the signs and symptoms of pneumothorax?

Updated: Apr 28, 2020
  • Author: Brian J Daley, MD, MBA, FACS, FCCP, CNSC; Chief Editor: Mary C Mancini, MD, PhD, MMM  more...
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The presentation of patients with pneumothorax varies depending on the following types of pneumothorax and ranges from completely asymptomatic to life-threatening respiratory distress:

  • Spontaneous pneumothorax: No clinical signs or symptoms in primary spontaneous pneumothorax until a bleb ruptures and causes pneumothorax; typically, the result is acute onset of chest pain and shortness of breath, particularly with secondary spontaneous pneumothoraces
  • Iatrogenic pneumothorax: Symptoms similar to those of spontaneous pneumothorax, depending on patient’s age, presence of underlying lung disease, and extent of pneumothorax
  • Tension pneumothorax: Hypotension, hypoxia, chest pain, dyspnea
  • Catamenial pneumothorax: Women aged 30-40 years with onset of symptoms within 48 hours of menstruation, right-sided pneumothorax, and recurrence
  • Pneumomediastinum: Must be differentiated from spontaneous pneumothorax; patients may or may not have symptoms of chest pain, persistent cough, sore throat, dysphagia, shortness of breath, or nausea/vomiting

See Clinical Presentation for more detail.

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