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Chest pain, breathlessness could be signs of pneumothorax: doctor

2012/06/06 14:01:29

Taipei, June 6 (CNA) Most people associate continuous chest pains and breathing difficulties with heart problems, but a family doctor said Wednesday that the symptoms could signal spontaneous pneumothorax, especially when they occur in young males.

Minor spontaneous pneumothorax, which describes the abnormal collection of air in the lung without an obvious cause, is often overlooked but could develop into other conditions if left untreated, said Kang Horng-ming, a family doctor at Shu-tien Clinic.

"In severe cases, pneumothorax can result in breathlessness and other conditions that are potentially life threatening," he said at a press conference.

There are 2,000 reported cases of spontaneous pneumothorax annually in Taiwan, Kang said, but that may be understated because the ailment is easy to miss, especially among women.

The doctor noted that because spontaneous pneumothorax is commonly observed in young males aged 10-30 who do not have underlying lung problems, symptoms in females are often misdiagnosed as other diseases, such as mitral valve prolapse.

Kang said the male to female occurrence ratio is about 5:1, "but there has been a slight increase in the number of female patients diagnosed with spontaneous pneumothorax at our clinic recently," he said.

In one case that occurred a few weeks ago, a 21-year-old female student who felt sudden chest pains and breathlessness in class came to Kang for help. A chest X-ray found that her right lung had nearly completely collapsed because of spontaneous pneumothorax.

She recovered shortly after being treated with chest tube decompression.

Kang said the recurrence rate is about 30-50 percent, and he advised patients who are diagnosed with the ailment not to smoke and to avoid sports that require heavy physical exertion.

(By Nancy Liu)
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