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Who Is at Risk for Atelectasis?

You might be at risk for atelectasis if you can't take deep breaths or cough, or if you have an airway blockage.

Conditions that can increase your risk for atelectasis include:

  • Surgery in which you're given medicine to make you sleep. This medicine can decrease or stop your normal effort to breathe and urge to cough.
  • Any condition or factor that causes pain when you breathe. Examples include surgery on your chest or abdomen, trauma, broken ribs, or pleurisy (inflammation of the membrane that surrounds your lungs and lines your chest cavity).
  • Being on a ventilator (a machine that supports breathing).
  • A blockage in your airway due to a foreign object, a mucus plug, lung cancer, or a poorly placed breathing tube.
  • Lung conditions and other medical disorders that affect your ability to breathe deeply or cough. Examples include respiratory distress syndromepneumonia, lung cancer, and neuromuscular diseases. Rarely, asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and cystic fibrosis are associated with atelectasis.

People who have one of the conditions above and who smoke or are obese are at greater risk for atelectasis than people who don't smoke or aren't obese.

Infants and toddlers (birth to 3 years old) who have risk factors for atelectasis seem to develop the condition more easily than adults.

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January 13, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.

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