How should a chest radiograph be evaluated for 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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Answer

When evaluating the chest radiograph for pneumothorax, one should use a systematic approach. Always assess rotation, which can obscure a pneumothorax and mimic a mediastinal shift. Compare the symmetry and shape of the clavicles, and look at the relative lengths of the ribs in the middle lung fields on each side on the anteroposterior (AP) or posteroanterior (PA) views. On an image with rotation, the ribs on each side often have unequal lengths.

In a nonloculated pneumothorax, air generally rises to the nondependent portion of the pleural cavity. Therefore, carefully examine the apices of an upright chest radiograph, and scrutinize the costophrenic and cardiophrenic angles on a supine chest radiograph.


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