Acute hypoxaemia is a life-threatening emergency. Diagnosis of the exact aetiology maybe complicated by the presence of pre-existing lung conditions. A case report is presented of a non-intubated patient with a pre-existing lung tumour who developed sudden profound hypoxaemia 3 days after emergency abdominal surgery. Definitive aetiological diagnosis was delayed due to chest X-ray features suggestive of compression and erosion of tumour tissue into the airway. Emergency computerised tomography (CT) imaging however revealed mucous plugging leading to massive atelectasis as the main aetiology.
Significant arterial hypoxaemia is defined as a partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2) that is less than 60 mmHg or a percentage of oxyhaemoglobin (% HbO2) that is less than 90%. The immediate response in acute situations is to rapidly exclude or treat common conditions such as airway obstruction, pneumothorax and pulmonary embolism.
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