Atelectasis is defined as a state in which the lung, in whole or in part, is collapsed or without air (see the CXR below). Etymology: from Greek atelēs, incomplete, defective (telos, end) and ektasis, extension, from ekteinein to stretch out.
Right lung atelectasis with mediastinal shift. ETT ends at the level of clavicles. The optimal position is in the middle between the clavicles and the carina. This ETT needs to be advanced 2 cm. Image source: Atelectasis due to Hypoventilation and Mucus Plug. Clinical Cases and Images.
Does atelectasis cause postoperative fever?
Atelectasis does not cause fever, despite common misconception to the contrary. A study of 100 cardiac surgery patients evaluated them for 2 days after surgery with daily portable CXRs and continuous temperature measurements. During the study period, the incidence of fever progressively decreased while that of atelectasis increased, showing a negative correlation between them. Atelectasis and fever occur frequently after surgery, but their concurrence is probably coincidental rather than causal.
Incentive spirometry is used to prevent or treat atelectasis after surgery.
When evaluating postoperative fever, a helpful mnemonic is the “5 Ws”:
- Wind (pulmonary causes: pneumonia, aspiration, and pulmonary embolism, but not atelectasis)
- Water (urinary tract infection)
- Wound (surgical site infection)
- Walking limited (deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism)
- “What did we do?” (iatrogenic causes: drug fever, blood product reaction, infections related to intravenous lines)
1. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. J. Pile. Clev Clin J Med. Vol. 73, Suppl. 1, Mar 2006.
2. Postoperative fever. H. Weed, L. Baddour. UpToDate 2006, Version 14.2, Sep 15, 2005.