Mediastinal Shift Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Complications, Treatment

What is Mediastinal Shift?

The term "mediastinal shift" is used to describe the movement of the organs and tissues that are placed within the mediastinum, which is the central chamber of the chest cavity that is positioned between the lungs. The mediastinum is usually in the middle of the thoracic cavity. The mediastinum may shift to one side in various medical disorders, such as a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) or a profound pleural effusion (extra fluid around the lungs).

This shift may exert pressure on the heart, major blood arteries, and airways in the thorax, which may result in catastrophic problems like cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, and other potentially fatal complications. The mediastinal shift is therefore regarded as a medical emergency that needs to be promptly assessed and managed by a healthcare provider.


A mediastinal shift is a condition in which the mediastinal structures in the thoracic cavity deviate to one side, which is typically visible on chest x-rays. It is a sign of significant intrathoracic pressure asymmetry and can be brought on by a variety of conditions, including mediastinal tumor, lung volume loss, or tension pneumothorax. The angle of the shift can help establish the root cause of the disease.

Mediastinal Shift Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Complications, Treatment


Depending on the underlying reason, mediastinal shift symptoms vary. Individuals with tension pneumothorax most frequently complain of breathlessness, chest pain, and nervousness. Tachycardia, tachypnea, jugular venous distention, and hypotension may be noticed during the evaluation. Other potential causes of mediastinal shift include mediastinal masses, anomalies of the spine or chest, and volume expansion or reduction on one side of the thorax. Another significant indicator is the clinical and radiographic discovery of a shift in the trachea and heart to the opposite side of the pleural effusion.


Mediastinal tumors, vertebral abnormalities, or changes in the chest wall can all contribute to mediastinal shift. Other causes include volume expansion or reduction on one side of the chest. An imbalance of intrathoracic pressures brought on by a significant pleural effusion, pneumothorax, or hemothorax can also result in a shift in the mediastinum. A mediastinal shift is the typical presentation of tension pneumothorax, an emergency situation. The shift's direction can aid in identifying the condition's primary cause.


The underlying cause determines the severity of mediastinal shift complications. When there is a tension pneumothorax, a mediastinal shift can compress the lung on the unaffected side, which can result in decreased cardiac output, lower blood pressure, hypoxia, and shock. Cardiovascular tamponade and dyspnea can also result from a shifted mediastinum with cardiac compression. Depending on the intensity and location, complications may also result from other sources such as volume increase or decrease on one side of the thorax or mediastinal masses. 


The mediastinal shift, which is typically seen on a chest radiograph, is the deflection of the mediastinal organs towards one side of the thoracic cavity. A mediastinal tumor, lung volume reduction, or lung volume expansion are only a few of the possible causes. The underlying cause determines how to treat a mediastinal shift. For instance, if tension pneumothorax is to blame, the recommended course of action is to introduce a chest tube to re-expand the lung and relieve pressure on the mediastinum.

It is crucial to identify a tension pneumothorax as soon as possible through emergency evaluation skills because failing to do so can result in cardiac arrest and mortality. The mediastinal shift may occasionally serve as a crucial clinical and radiological sign that aids in the diagnosis of the underlying disease. Individual situations may necessitate a discussion with healthcare experts to identify the optimal course of treatment.

Mediastinal Shift Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Complications, Treatment Mediastinal Shift Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Complications, Treatment Reviewed by Simon Albert on March 15, 2023 Rating: 5
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