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From Tackle to Tension Pneumothorax


William B. Kist
Kyle Smith
School of Nursing
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Andrea Fentem
Department of Psychiatry
Washington University in St. Louis
Chaya Gopalan
Departments of Applied Health, Primary Care and Health Systems
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville


Tension pneumothorax is a condition that is associated with air in the pleural space. In this case study, tension pneumothorax is caused by a rupture in the pleura of the lung due to blunt force trauma. Students are presented with a patient scenario that entails a physical assessment, vital signs, blood labs, medical history, and a method of treatment. Students must correlate lab and diagnostic testing to the underlying pathology, interpret the data, and create a treatment plan that is appropriate for a tension pneumothorax in the acute stages and follow-up period. The case was written for use with a modified team-based learning format involving groups of four to five students, but it could also be completed as an individual project. It is targeted to premedical/allied health students and is appropriate for any respiratory course at the undergraduate or graduate level in a biomedical science program, nursing science program, or for health-related professional courses such as advanced physiology or advanced pathophysiology.



  • List the major lung capacities and lung volumes.
  • Compare anatomical vs. physiological dead space.
  • Explain ventilation-perfusion matching.
  • Locate the central and peripheral chemoreceptors.
  • Explain how each type of chemoreceptor specifically responds to chemical stimuli.
  • Explain the major respiratory centers in the brainstem and how they are thought to control breathing.
  • Explain the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation and its relevance to the body's major buffering system.
  • Compare obstructive vs. restrictive lung diseases.
  • Obtain electrolyte values and calculate anion gap.
  • Determine how tension pneumothorax affects ABGs.
  • Understand key treatments to a pneumothorax and asthma.
  • Correlate physical assessment data with potential underlying pathophysiology.


Collapsed lung; ventilation-perfusion; obstructive; restrictive; FEV; lung capacities; arterial blood gas; chemoreceptors; respiratory centers; anion gap; Henderson-Hasselbalch; lung disease; treatment; long-term management; clinical manifestations

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Clinical education



Type / Methods

Directed, Discussion



Subject Headings

Physiology  |   Medicine (General)  |   Nursing  |   Pharmacy / Pharmacology  |  

Date Posted


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