Atelectasis and lung function in the postoperative period

Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 1992 Aug;36(6):546-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-6576.1992.tb03516.x.


Thirteen patients with healthy hearts and lungs, and with a mean age of 68 years, who were scheduled for lower abdominal surgery during isoflurane anaesthesia with muscular paralysis, were investigated with arterial blood gases, spirometry, pulmonary x-ray and computed tomography (CT) of the chest before and during anaesthesia, as well as during the first 4 postoperative days. Before anaesthesia, lung function and gas exchange were normal in all patients. Pulmonary x-ray and CT scans of the lungs were also normal. During anaesthesia, 6 of 13 patients developed atelectasis (mean 1.0% of intrathoracic transverse area in all patients). Two hours postoperatively, 11 of 13 patients had atelectasis and the mean atelectatic area was 1.8%. Pao2 was significantly reduced by 2.1 kPa to 9.8 kPa. On the first postoperative day, the mean atelectasis was unaltered (1.8%). None of the atelectasis found on CT scanning could be detected on standard pulmonary x-ray. Forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expired volume in 1 s (FEV1) were significantly decreased to 2/3 of preoperative level. Pao2 was significantly reduced to less than 80% of the preoperative level (mean 9.4 kPa). There were significant correlations between the atelectatic area and the impairment in FVC, FEV1, and Pao2. Spirometry and blood gases improved during the succeeding postoperative days, and atelectasis decreased. No patient suffered from pulmonary complications, as judged from clinical criteria and pulmonary x-ray, in contrast to the findings of atelectasis in 85% of the patients by computed tomography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / surgery*
  • Aged
  • Anesthesia, Inhalation*
  • Blood Gas Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isoflurane*
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications*
  • Pulmonary Atelectasis / physiopathology*
  • Spirometry
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Isoflurane