Atelectasis during anaesthesia and in the postoperative period

Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 1986 Feb;30(2):154-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-6576.1986.tb02387.x.


Transverse sections of lung tissue were studied in patients by computerized tomography during anaesthesia and in the postoperative period. Eight patients were studied during intravenous (thiopentone) and six during inhalational (halothane) anaesthesia. The latter patients were studied during both spontaneous and mechanical ventilation. Five of the patients who underwent surgery for inguinal hernia and five patients in whom laparotomy was performed were studied 1 h and 24 h postoperatively. No patient showed any lung changes while awake preoperatively, and all patients developed dependent, crest-shaped lung densities within 5-10 min of anaesthesia. The densities comprised 3.4% of the lung volume in the caudal (basal) 5 cm of the lung tissue. No significant differences in the size and distribution of the densities were noted between spontaneous breathing and mechanical ventilation during anaesthesia, or between intravenous and inhalational anaesthesia. The densities remained in nine of ten patients 1 h postoperatively, and they remained in five of ten patients 24 h after anaesthesia. The densities are considered to be compression atelectases which may develop as a result of relaxation of the diaphragm. They may be important contributors to postoperative pulmonary complications.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anesthesia, Inhalation / adverse effects*
  • Anesthesia, Intravenous / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Halothane
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*
  • Pulmonary Atelectasis / etiology*
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Thiopental
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Thiopental
  • Halothane