Preliminary Diagnosis: Pneumothorax

I. What imaging technique is first-line for this diagnosis?

Chest X-ray

II. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of this technique for diagnosing pneumothorax.


  • Inexpensive.

  • Quick.

  • Minimal Ionizing radiation.


  • Difficult to see small pneumothorax or an apical bleb.

III. What are the contraindications for the first-line imaging technique?

Relative contraindications include ionizing radiation exposure in pregnant females. Some institutions may require consent.

IV. What alternative imaging techniques are available?

CT of the chest without contrast

V. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of the alternative techniques for diagnosing pneumothorax.


  • Sensitive and specific in identifying very small apical and/or basilar pneumothorax (pneumothoraces).


  • Exposure to significant ionizing radiation.

  • Increased cost relative to radiograph.

VI. What are the contraindications for the alternative imaging techniques?

May be contraindicated in pregnant patients.

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