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Pneumothorax and Medical Negligence

Pneumothorax and Medical Negligence

This article explores pneumothorax, a condition in which air escapes from the lungs and gets trapped in the pleural cavity. Whether you would like to know what causes the condition, how it is diagnosed or ways in which pneumothorax treatment may lead to medical negligence, the article aims to provide all the information you need.

What is Pneumothorax?

Pneumothorax is a condition which occurs when air leaks from the lungs and becomes trapped in the space between the lungs and the chest wall. More often than not, this will happen when a small bleb or bulla (like a blister) on the surface of the lung bursts. This in turn will leave a small tear on the outer part of the lung, allowing air to leak into the pleural space (between the lung and the chest wall). This is more specifically known as a spontaneous pneumothorax and will usually arise in healthy males under the age of 40.

Pneumothorax may develop as a result of other health complications. This is known as a secondary spontaneous pneumothorax, and can accompany other lung diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis and lung cancer. Additionally, it can be the result of injury to the chest, which may be sustained by something such as a car crash or a surgical operation.

Symptoms of Pneumothorax

Pneumothorax will often materialise without much warning, the symptoms of which include:-

  • Sharp, stabbing pain on one side of the chest which develops suddenly;
  • Increase of pain when breathing in (called inspiration);
  • Shortness of breath, which is often worse the larger the pneumothorax is;
  • Some people may also develop a cough and/or a fever.

Diagnosing and Treating Pneumothorax

Someone who presents with the signs and symptoms of pneumothorax should be sent for further diagnostic tests. These may include an x-ray or a CT scan to help determine whether or not there is air outside the lung. Or if a patient cannot be moved, an ultrasound may be used.

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the treatment will depend upon the severity of the condition. In small bullae, the tear will be small and the leak short-term. In such cases, a patient's condition will be self-limiting, meaning it will heal on its own, without the need for medical intervention. Nevertheless, it is important for medical professionals to review the patient after seven to ten days to ensure there is improvement.

However, if the bulla does not heal, then further air will leak and the pneumothorax will steadily increase in size. This could lead to a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. To prevent this from happening, a pneumothorax deemed to be significant in size should be treated by aspirating (removing) the air.

Delay in Diagnosis Does This Amount to Medical Negligence?

Although pneumothorax often does not need medical intervention, it is important that a patient is aware of his/her condition. This is because spontaneous pneumothorax is usually recurrent, and thus a patient should be warned of the possibility of similar episodes occurring in the future. If someone does once again present with symptoms of pneumothorax, they should seek medical advice without delay, as their condition could have deteriorated. Therefore it is vital medical professionals:-

  • Recognise the symptoms of pneumothorax and arrange the correct diagnostic tests;
  • Analyse the test results and make a firm diagnosis;
  • Perform treatment if necessary, and advise a patient of the need for further review;
  • Tell a patient to immediately return to hospital/their GP surgery if symptoms arise once again.

If there is a failure on the part of medical professionals to carry out any of the above and you have suffered as a result, you could have been the victim of medical negligence. To find out more, you need to speak to a medical negligence solicitor as soon as possible.

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