Pneumothorax is the presence of gas in the pleural space. A spontaneous pneumothorax is one that occurs without antecedent trauma to the thorax. A primary spontaneous pneumothorax occurs in the absence of underlying lung disease, while a secondary spontaneous pneumothorax occurs in its presence. A traumatic pneumothorax results from penetrating or nonpenetrating chest injuries. A tension pneumothorax is a pneumothorax in which the pressure in the pleural space is positive throughout the respiratory cycle.

Primary Spontaneous Pneumothorax

Primary spontaneous pneumothoraces are usually due to rupture of apical pleural blebs, small cystic spaces that lie within or immediately under the visceral pleura. Primary spontaneous pneumothoraces occur almost exclusively in smokers, which suggests that these patients have subclinical lung disease. Approximately one-half of patients with an initial primary spontaneous pneumothorax will have a recurrence. The initial recommended treatment for primary spontaneous pneumothorax is simple aspiration. If the lung does not expand with aspiration, or if the patient has a recurrent pneumothorax, thoracoscopy with stapling of blebs and pleural abrasion is indicated. Thoracoscopy or thoracotomy with pleural abrasion is almost 100% successful in preventing recurrences.

Secondary Spontaneous Pneumothorax

Most secondary spontaneous pneumothoraces are due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but pneumothoraces have been reported with virtually every lung disease. Pneumothorax in patients with lung disease is more life-threatening than it is in normal individuals because of the lack of pulmonary reserve in these patients. Nearly all patients with secondary spontaneous pneumothorax should be treated with tube thoracostomy and the instillation of a sclerosing agent such as doxycycline or talc. Patients with secondary spontaneous pneumothoraces who have a persistent air leak, an unexpanded lung after 3 days of tube thoracostomy, or a recurrent pneumothorax should be subjected to thoracoscopy with bleb resection and pleural abrasion.

Traumatic Pneumothorax

Traumatic pneumothoraces can result from both penetrating and nonpenetrating chest trauma. Traumatic pneumothoraces should be treated with tube thoracostomy unless they are very small. If a hemopneumothorax is present, one chest tube should be placed in the superior part of the hemithorax to evacuate the air, and another should be placed in the inferior part of the hemithorax to remove the blood. Iatrogenic pneumothorax is a type of traumatic pneumothorax which is becoming more common. The leading causes are transthoracic needle aspiration, thoracentesis, and the insertion of central intravenous catheters. The treatment differs according to the degree of distress and can be observation, supplemental oxygen, aspiration, or tube thoracostomy.

Tension Pneumothorax

This condition usually occurs during mechanical ventilation or resuscitative efforts. The positive pleural pressure is life-threatening both because ventilation is severely compromised and because the positive pressure is transmitted to the mediastinum, which results in decreased venous return to the heart and reduced cardiac output.

Difficulty in ventilation during resuscitation or high peak inspiratory pressures during mechanical ventilation strongly suggest the diagnosis. The diagnosis is made by the finding of an enlarged hemithorax with no breath sounds and shift of the mediastinum to the contralateral side. Tension pneumothorax must be treated as a medical emergency. If the tension in the pleural space is not relieved, the patient is likely to die from inadequate cardiac output or marked hypoxemia. A large-bore needle should be inserted into the pleural space through the second anterior intercostal space. If large amounts of gas escape from the needle after insertion, the diagnosis is confirmed. The needle should be left in place until a thoracostomy tube can be inserted.


    1. Congestive heart failure
    2. Cirrhosis
    3. Pulmonary embolization
    4. Nephrotic syndrome
    5. Peritoneal dialysis
    6. Superior vena cava obstruction
    7. Myxedema
    8. Urinothorax


    1. Neoplastic diseases
      1. Metastatic disease
      2. Mesothelioma

    2. Infectious diseases
      1. Bacterial infections
      2. Tuberculosis
      3. Fungal infections
      4. Viral infections
      5. Parasitic infections

    3. Pulmonary embolization
    4. Gastrointestinal disease
      1. Esophageal perforation
      2. Pancreatic disease
      3. Intraabdominal abscesses
      4. Diaphragmatic hernia
      5. After abdominal surgery
      6. Endoscopic variceal sclerotherapy
      7. After liver transplant

    5. Collagen-vascular diseases
      1. Rheumatoid pleuritis
      2. Systemic lupus erythematosus
      3. Drug-induced lupus
      4. Immunoblastic lymphadenopathy
      5. Sjögren's syndrome
      6. Wegener's granulomatosis
      7. Churg-Strauss syndrome

    6. Post-coronary artery bypass surgery
    7. Asbestos exposure
    8. Sarcoidosis
    9. Uremia
    10. Meigs' syndrome
    11. Yellow nail syndrome
    12. Drug-induced pleural disease
      1. Nitrofurantoin
      2. Dantrolene
      3. Methysergide
      4. Bromocriptine
      5. Procarbazine
      6. Amiodarone

    13. Trapped lung
    14. Radiation therapy
    15. Post-cardiac injury syndrome
    16. Hemothorax
    17. Iatrogenic injury
    18. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
    19. Pericardial disease
    20. Chylothorax