Bibasilar Atelectasis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Bibasilar AtelectasisOur lungs receive the top award for being one of the hardest working components of our body. Without much effort for most people, the lungs expand and contract up to 20 times each minute to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen.

An obstruction of this process is called bibasilar atelectasis, which ceases as the bottom portion of the lungs collapse. This condition results in post-surgery patients with breathing disorders, trauma to the lungs, and in obese patients.

We will take a closer look at this life-threatening lung condition, and learn the symptoms of bibasilar atelectasis.

What Is Bibasilar Atelectasis?

In medical terms, bibasilar atelectasis definition refers to a partial or complete collapse of a lung or both lungs. We have two lungs—the left and the right—both containing lobes. The left lung has two lobes, and the right lung has three lobes.

There are tiny air sacs shaped like balloons containing blood vessels arranged in clusters throughout the lungs. These are called alveoli, which abnormally deflate due to an obstruction of the airflow with bibasilar atelectasis. It affects the bottom portions of the lungs. The life-threatening result occurs from a lack of oxygen reaching vital organs of the body.

Although it is similar to pneumothorax, bibasilar atelectasis is caused by different conditions and situations. Pneumothorax can lead to bibasilar atelectasis.

Bibasilar Atelectasis Causes

An obstruction to the airflow within the lungs can form in various ways. Bibasilar atelectasis is commonly seen after surgery and as a complication of respiratory health conditions such as cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, and with a blunt force trauma to the lungs.

1. Anesthesia

One of the most common causes of bibasilar atelectasis is the effects of using anesthesia during surgical procedures. In addition to preventing pain sensation and controlling blood flow, heart rate, and blood pressure, anesthetics medications also control the breathing technique of the lungs. The ability to take in air is reduced with this state, thus causing bibasilar atelectasis.

2. Foreign Body

An obstruction of lung functioning can come in the form of an inhaled environmental allergen which can cause the lungs to collapse, either partially or in a full capacity.

3. Mucus Plug

During surgery, the lungs respond to medication by decreasing the rate of inflation, which allows mucus to gather and collect in the airway. Doctors will use suction to remove the mucus, but some can still collect afterward. Deep breathing exercises are done during recovery to expel the mucus.

Mucus plugs commonly occur in patients with asthma and cystic fibrosis.

4. Blood Clot

A blood clot can cause bibasilar atelectasis if the blood escapes the bloodstream and enters the inside of the lungs. This is usually the result of a blunt force trauma to the chest.

5. Airway Narrowing

Some health conditions such as fungal infections and tuberculosis can cause the airway passages to narrow from scarring that occurs.

6. Damage to Lungs

Damage to the lung walls can cause a collapse leading to bibasilar atelectasis. Air can escape from the lung into the space between the chest wall and the lung from diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pneumonia.

7. Trauma

A direct hit to the ribs or lungs via an auto accident, stabbing, or gunshot may lead to a lung compression.

Other disruptions to the lung functioning that may result in bibasilar atelectasis include a lung tumor, increased lung pressure, obesity, and excessive use of cough suppressants, both prescribed and over-the-counter.

Bibasilar Atelectasis Symptoms

Bibasilar atelectasis usually only affects a small portion of the lungs, mainly the bottom portion, and therefore is asymptomatic. If by chance it affects a greater portion or the entire lung, there are key symptoms to be aware of including:

  • Wheezing
  • Fever
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Decreased chest expansion
  • Excessive cough
  • Sputum
  • Discoloration of skin
  • Severe pain
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat

Bibasilar Atelectasis Diagnosis

Since doctors may misdiagnose bibasilar atelectasis as pneumothorax, a proper diagnosis requires explicit testing. You can expect a complete blood count test, a performance test of the kidneys, serum electrolytes check, and a physical examination.

Imaging tests may be ordered and include chest x-rays to detect a collapsed lung, a chest computerized tomography scan, and a pulmonary function test. A bronchoscopy may also be performed to determine if an obstruction such as a tumor is present.

Bibasilar Atelectasis Treatment

A treatment plan for bibasilar atelectasis focuses on treating the underlying cause or health condition. Minor cases can heal on their own and do not require treatment while more serious conditions of bibasilar atelectasis could result in surgical procedures to treat.

If this is the case, post-surgery treatment will require rehabilitation in the form of specific breathing exercises to train the collapsed lung to expand properly. The doctor will drain any excess of mucus as needed and may prescribe mucus thinners to ease the process. Prescribed bronchodilators and oxygen may be required to assist in the breathing process.

Bibasilar Atelectasis Prevention

You can prevent bibasilar atelectasis by not ingesting foreign objects and avoiding the use of tobacco, as well the use of anesthetic vices when it is not necessary.

Since many cases are not preventable due to existing health conditions and surgical procedures, there are steps to lower risk of bibasilar atelectasis complications which include:

  • Doing deep breathing exercises regularly
  • Using positive expiratory pressure devices to aid in breathing when needed
  • Recording symptoms and breathing patterns
  • Maintaining positions that promote mucus drainage

Bibasilar atelectasis can be a frightening condition that may lead to a complete lung collapse in extreme cases. Seen mostly in post-surgical recovery, the use of anesthetics can greatly affect lung functioning and airway passages.

Health conditions and injury to the lungs can also bring upon bibasilar atelectasis. Mild conditions do not need treatment while more serious cases require surgery.

Related Article:

Heavy Breathing: Common Causes and Treatments

“Bibasilar Atelectasis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis,” ePain Assist, February 27, 2017;, last accessed June 9, 2017.
Brunek, E., “Bibasilar Atelectasis (Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment),” The Healthy Apron, May 19, 2017;, last accessed June 9, 2017.

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