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Postoperative atelectasis generally occurs within 48 hours.
It is an extremely common post-operative complication with some degree of pulmonary collapse occurring after almost every abdominal or trans-thoracic procedure.
Mucus is retained in the bronchial tree, blocking the finer bronchi; the alveolar air is then reabsorbed, with collapse of the supplied lung segments, usually the basal lobes. The collapsed lung may become secondarily infected by inhaled organisms.