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Diagnosing a Spontaneous Pneumothorax

Diagnosing a Spontaneous Pneumothorax

While a spontaneous pneumothorax does not always require medical treatment, it is important the condition is correctly diagnosed. This is because an early diagnosis will reduce the risk of further episodes occurring, thus preventing additional pain and suffering for the patient.

What is a Spontaneous Pneumothorax?

A spontaneous pneumothorax is a condition in which air leaks from the lung into the space between the outer border of the lung and the inner surface of the chest wall (called the pleural space). This happens when a small bleb or bulla (which is like a blister) on the surface of the lungs bursts. When it does so, air leaks from the lung into the pleural space.

These blisters, known collectively as bullae, can vary in size. If a small bulla bursts, the leak will be relatively minimal and medical intervention will not be needed. This is known as a self-limiting condition. Indeed, the bulla will simply seal over by itself, and no further air will escape into the plural space.

However, if the bulla does not seal, then further air leaks into the pleural space, causing the pneumothorax to increase in size. This can be a serious and potentially even life-threatening condition.

How is a Spontaneous Pneumothorax Diagnosed?

There are certain symptoms which are typical of a spontaneous pneumothorax. These include a sharp stabbing pain in the chest and shoulder which worsens on inspiration (breathing in), as well as shortness of breath. These symptoms should be the primary factor in leading medical professionals towards the conclusion of a spontaneous pneumothorax. It would then be standard practice to arrange an x-ray, which should be reviewed within 48 hours to avoid any potential complications developing. A competent clinician would be able to identify a pneumothorax on the x-ray image.

The treatment given would then depend upon the extent of the problem. Patients with larger pneumothoraces may need to have the air aspirated from the pleural space. However, more often than not a patient's condition will resolve without any medical treatment. If so, he/she will be kept under observation by their GP. In both situations, it is important that a patient is told to return to hospital without delay should the condition recur.

Failure to Diagnosis Does This Amount to Medical Negligence?

If medical professionals fail to diagnose a spontaneous pneumothorax in a timely manner, then there may well have been a substandard level of care. If so, a patient may be able to make a medical negligence claim. Such claims often arise because there has been a failure on the part of the medical professional to:-

  • Recognise symptoms that are entirely consistent with spontaneous pneumothorax;
  • Arrange further tests, such as an x-ray;
  • Competently interpret test results;
  • Review the imaging results (ie. x-ray image) within 48 hours.

If this has happened to you or a loved one, you need to speak to a medical negligence solicitor about claiming compensation.

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Early legal assistance can be vital so please contact us if you would like to discuss your situation. Please call us free on 0800 234 3300 (or from a mobile 01275 334030) or complete our Online Enquiry Form.

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