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Anesthesia

Anesthesia Problem Name

09/01/2009

Question:

The last time I had surgery, about 12 hours later (in the middle of the night) I had a breathing problem. The doctor said my lungs were about to collapse. I had several doctors standing around my bed. They brought in an x-ray machine. I came out of it after a while, but it was pretty scary. I`m about to have another surgery and in filling out the paperwork I want to explain this issue. They had a name for it, but I can`t find anything that would tell me what that reaction is called. Can you help? Thanks.

Answer:

Without more information it's hard to know exactly what happened to you after your last surgery . It is a really good idea though for you to try to find out and to communicate this to your current doctors. The hospital where you are going to have your procedure could make things easier by requesting a copy of your records from the original hospital (they will require your permission to do so).

The commonest lung condition after major surgery is called atelectasis. Atelectasis is the "collapse" or closure of some airways in the lung, usually the "base" or dependant parts of the lung. These airways may remain closed for several hours or days. They can be reopened by means of physiotherapy and breathing exercises ("incentive spirometry" uses a gadget to assist with this), coupled with good pain relief to allow deep breaths and coughing. In a person with normal lungs, atelectasis after major surgery is well tolerated. In a person with severe lung disease it can be a real problem. Atelectasis is one of the reasons why oxygen is administered routinely after surgery.

Pneumothorax is a more dramatic complication in which all or a major part of the lung collapses down because of the passage of air into the pleural space, between the lung and the chest wall. This is a rare, acute, potentially life-threatening event. It is treated with a tube placed into the chest so it is unlikely that this is what you experienced.

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Response by:

Gareth S Kantor, MD Gareth S Kantor, MD
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University