Definition: Alveoli devoid of air (not replaced)

Types of Atelectasis:

Resorptive atelectasis

When airways are obstructed there is no further ventilation to the lungs and beyond. In the early stages blood flow continues and gradually the oxygen and Nitrogen get absorbed, resulting in atelectasis.

Relaxation atelectasis

The lung is held close to chest wall because of the negative pressure in the pleural space. Once the negative pressure is lost the lung tends to recoil due to elastic properties and becomes atelectatic. This occurs in patients with pneumothorax and pleural effusion. In this instance, the loss of negative pressure in the pleura permits lung to relax, due to elastic recoil. There is common misconception that atelectasis is due to compression.

Adhesive Atelectasis

Surfactant reduces surface tension and keeps alveoli open. In conditions where there is loss of surfactant the alveoli collapse and become atelectatic. In ARDS this occurs diffusely to both lungs. In pulmonary embolism due to loss of blood flow and lack of  CO2, the integrity of surfactant gets impaired. 

Cicatricial Atelectasis

Alveoli gets trapped in scar and becomes atelectatic in fibrotic disorders.  

Round Atelectasis: An instance where the lung gets trapped by pleural disease and is devoid of air. Classically encountered in Asbestosis.

Signs of Loss of Lung Volume


Movement of Fissures

Movement of Hilum

Compensatory Hyperinflation

Alterations in proportion of Left and Right Lung

Hemithorax asymmetry

In normals right and left henithorax are equal in size. The size of hemithorax will be asymmetrical and smaller on the side of atelectasis.

In a given case one or more of these features will alert you to the presence of atelectasis. 

Etiological considerations.

Special radiological signs

Bowing Sign 

In LUL atelectasis or following resection, the oblique fissure bows forwards in the lateral view. Bowing sign refers to this feature. 

Double Lesion Sign 

If you encounter atelectasis of RUL and RLL sparing RML, it is difficult to comprehend a single endobronchial lesion to account for both lesions. There has to be two independent endobronchial lesions, hence it was proposed that it is unlikely to be due to primary bronchogenic cancer. The concept is based on knowledge of Anatomy. 

Caution: Do not rule out lung cancer when you see this phenomenon, you just have to find an alternate explanation for the second lesion. 

S curve of Golden

The transverse fissure is "S" shaped. The proximal portion of the fissure is convex because the tumor mass prevents the fissure from moving towards hilum. Whenever you see this shape to a fissure consider a mass causing atelectasis.

Open bronchus sign

When air bronchogram is visible in an atelectatic lung, it implies that there is no airway obstruction. It is more a trapped lung with patent airways.

Inverted comma sign

Do not mistake a Azygous lobe to movement of transverse fissure. Azygous lobe gives the appearance of an inverted comma.