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How Is Atelectasis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose atelectasis based on your signs and symptoms and the results from tests and procedures. Atelectasis might be detected as a result of a chest x ray done for an underlying lung condition.

Atelectasis usually is diagnosed by a radiologist, pulmonologist (lung specialist), emergency medicine physician, or a primary care doctor (such as a pediatrician, internal medicine specialist, or family practitioner).

Diagnostic Tests and Procedures

The most common test used to diagnose atelectasis is a chest x ray. A chest x ray is a painless test that creates pictures of the structures inside your chest, such as your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

Your doctor also may recommend a chest computed tomography (to-MOG-rah-fee) scan, or chest CT scan. This test creates precise pictures of the structures in your chest. A chest CT scan is a type of x ray. However, the pictures from a chest CT scan show more details than pictures from a standard chest x ray.

Atelectasis often resolves without treatment. If the condition is severe or lasts a long time and your doctor thinks it's caused by an airway blockage, he or she may use bronchoscopy (bron-KOS-ko-pee). This procedure is used to look inside your airway.

During the procedure, your doctor passes a thin, flexible tube called a bronchoscope through your nose (or sometimes your mouth), down your throat, and into your airway. If you have a breathing tube, the bronchoscope can be passed through the tube to your airway.

A light and small camera on the bronchoscope allow your doctor to see inside your airway. Your doctor also can remove blockages during the procedure.

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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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