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Spontaneous pneumothorax affects thousands of individuals around the world each year. Research is always being done to determine new forms of treatment and follow-up care. This page provides useful information about current news and research concerning spontaneous pneumothorax.

What is a Spontaneous Pneumothorax?
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Spontaneous pneumothorax is classified into two separate categories, primary and secondary. Primary spontaneous pneumothorax occurs without any prior lung disorders or diseases. In most cases, primary spontaneous pneumothorax results from the rupture of blebs (air-filled sac on the lung). As a result, air escapes from the lung and enters the chest cavity causing the lung to collapse. Depending on the severity of the incident, various symptoms will be experienced within minutes of the initial collapse. The reason why this occurs is unclear, although spontaneous pneumothorax has been attributed to tall, thin men (between 20 and 40 years of age); smokers; and in some cases, women during their menstrual cycles.

Catamenial pneumothorax is a rare form of spontaneous pneumothorax that affects women during their menstrual cycle.

Secondary pneumothorax can occur as a complication of underlying lung disease. Asthmas, cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, and whooping cough can all cause spontaneous pneumothoraces.

A spontaneous pneumothorax has a very high rate of recurrence. It is estimated that the probability of reoccurence is as high as 50% in some patients.


Click here to view an x-ray of a pneumothorax (source: Yale University)


  • sudden chest pain

  • shortness of breath

  • chest tightness

  • easy fatigue

  • rapid heart rate

  • bluish color of the skin caused by lack of oxygen

  • pain in the arm

  • stabbing sensation in the back

  • Detection and Tests

    Using a stethoscope, a doctor may be able to determine decreased breathing sounds, and a possible collapse.

  • chest x-ray

  • arterial blood gases

  • Treatment

    The goal of treatment is to remove the air from the pleural space so that the lung can re-expand.

    For small pneumothoraces, the body may absorb the excess air on its own.

    More serious cases may require a chest-tube insertion to allow the air to be released and the lung to re-expand.

    Recurrent cases of pneumothoraces may require surgery to eliminate the chance of having future episodes.

    Recurrent cases of spontaneous pneumothorax may become more serious. An x-ray is the only reliable method in determining the severity of each pneumothorax.


    The only known way of preventing a pneumothorax is to reduce the risk by not smoking.


    As many as 50% of patients with a pneumothorax may experience recurrence.

    Call your doctor if...

    Call your doctor or visit your local hospital if any of these symptoms develop.


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