The role of atmospheric pressure variation in the development of spontaneous pneumothoraces

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1989 Mar;139(3):659-62. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/139.3.659.


It has been postulated that spontaneous pneumothoraces (SP) develop because of rupture of subpleural blebs, and that atmospheric pressure changes (delta AP) may be contributory. A 5-year retrospective analysis of SP admissions was carried out to determine if delta AP do play a role in SP development. Using a 36-yr record of hourly delta AP, a normative background for delta AP was constructed. A fall in AP below the fifth, or a rise above the ninety-fifth percentile during these time periods, was classed as "unusual." Atmospheric pressure changes in the 4 days prior to SP were analyzed. The expected frequency of SP occurring by chance, if no relationship to delta AP existed, was also calculated. A total of 192 cases of SP was analyzed. Traumatic pneumothoraces were excluded. The majority of cases (72%) had been exposed to at least one "unusual" delta AP in the 4 days prior to onset of symptoms. Among those with four or more "unusual" exposures, SP occurrence was significantly more frequent than expected by chance alone (p less than 10(-10]. A strong positive association between delta AP and SP was not found in all cases, as delta AP are unlikely to be the only causative factor for SP. This finding of a relationship with ambient pressure changes lends support to the theory that SP develop as a result of rupture of subpleural blebs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Atmospheric Pressure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / complications
  • Male
  • Pneumothorax / etiology*