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What is tension pneumothorax?

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According to The New York Times, when air enters the space around the lung but does not leave causing the lung to completely collapse, a tension pneumothorax occurs. Tension pneumothorax can lead to shock, low blood pressure and death. Tension pneumothorax is typically not preventable and is often caused by chest trauma.

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The New York Times states that the air that is caught in the chest causes pressure buildup, which makes the lung collapse. The collapsed lung can then push the heart, major blood vessels and airways toward the other side of the chest to cause compression in the other lung and affect blood flow to the heart. Symptoms of tension pneumothorax include shortness of breath, sudden chest pain and tightness, rapid heart rate and breathing, bulging veins in the neck and low blood pressure.

Tension pneumothorax is treated by inserting a chest tube between the ribs to vacuum air from the chest cavity, which allows the lung to expand, explains The New York Times. Vacuum intensity is gradually reduced, and the chest tube is removed once the lung stops leaking air. Close to half of patients who experience pneumothorax have a repeat incident. Surgery may be required if it happens again or if the lungs do not re-expand after five days of the chest tube insertion.

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