How Does COPD Cause A Pneumothorax?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is any chronic inflammatory lung disease that leads to obstruction of airflow from the lungs. It denotes several progressive illnesses including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and non-reversible asthma. COPD has several health complications such as pneumonia, heart diseases, acute exacerbations, high blood pressure in lung arteries and pneumothorax. Pneumothorax is a lung disorder characterized by a leak in the pleural cavity resulting in the air within the cavity. When the pleural space, between the wall of the chest and lung, has filled with air, it causes the lung or a section of it to collapse. Presence of air in the pleural space is usually as a result of chest injury or hole in the lung.

How Does COPD Cause A Pneumothorax?

How Does COPD Cause A Pneumothorax?

Patients with COPD are at a greater risk of developing pneumothorax because their lungs are weaker, hence can easily develop holes in the lungs. If one is suffering from chronic bronchitis, There are different types of pneumothorax namely, simple pneumothorax, tension pneumothorax, traumatic pneumothorax, drug-related pneumothorax, and spontaneous pneumothorax. COPD results in drug-related pneumothorax, although it can also result in spontaneous pneumothorax. In spontaneous pneumothorax, the condition is related to the formation of small air sacs (blebs), which can rupture at any time and due to various factors. Blebs can also come together forming large cysts of air sacs known as bullae. The common COPD related to blebs or bullae is emphysema, which can ultimately lead to pneumothorax. This usually happens once the blebs/bullae rupture causing a leak into the chest cavity. The likelihood that pneumothorax will recur under such circumstances is estimated between 13 and 60 percent.

During a physical exam, a patient with COPD may barely show any signs of a pneumothorax. Therefore, anyone who develops sudden and increasing shortness of breathing with COPD should be investigated for pneumothorax, as it is a potential complication of the ailment.

Understanding COPD

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the most common disorders of COPD. Chronic bronchitis is swelling of the lining of the bronchial tubes (air passageways). The cilia which lines the bronchial tubes is compromised and does not perform as required therefore making it hard to cough out mucus. Emphysema, on the other hand, is linked to the alveoli (air sacs), in which they become damaged due to exposure to smoking and irritants such as harmful gases and chemicals. The walls of the alveoli expand making it difficult for air to circulate well within the air sacs. Non-reversible asthma is asthma that does not respond to treatment of ordinary asthma medication. It affects the bronchial tubes making them constrict and swell, which is irreversible.

If you have COPD, you are likely to experience increased shortness of breath as well as breathlessness, tightness in the chest, wheezing and recurrent coughing (with/without mucus). At the beginning of the condition, the symptoms are usually mild, but as it progresses, the symptoms become more severe. In later stages of COPD, you may exhibit symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss and swelling of the legs. The extremity of breathlessness determines how severe COPD is; with increased difficulty to breathe is a major sign of progressed COPD. The chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has no cure but can be managed with medication, oxygen therapy, and lifestyle changes.

For severe cases of COPD, surgery is the most prominent method of treatment to improve the condition. Common surgical procedures include bullectomy – to remove large air sacs from the lungs – and lung volume reduction surgery to remove accumulated damaged lung tissue.


One of the potential complications of COPD is pneumothorax, which can be attributed to wearing of the lungs or leak into the pleural cavity. When a patient is suffering from a chronic pulmonary disorder, the infection may weaken the walls of the lungs making them susceptible to developing holes. These holes act as an opening for air into the pleural space, which in turn applies pressure on the lung and can lead to the collapse of part of or the entire lung. Other than that, the leak can be as a result of chest injury either during accidents, physical assaults or sharp objects piercing through your chest. Chest injury can also result in rupturing of blebs/bullae hence causing air to seep into the pleural space.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 22, 2019

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