This is a basic article which is aimed at medical students and non-radiologists in training grades. If you've arrived here by accident, and need more information, head to the main consolidation article.
Consolidation is a radiological sign that refers to non-specific air-space opacification on a chest radiograph or chest CT. Many things can fill the alveolar spaces, including fluid (heart failure), pus (pneumonia), blood (pulmonary hemorrhage) and cells (lung cancer).
Presentation is dependent on the underlying cause. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, productive cough +/- haemoptosis, fevers/chills/rigors and weight loss, particularly if malignancy is suspected.
On examination, decreased chest expansion may be noted on the affected side and dullness to percussion. On auscultation, findings include bronchial breath sounds, inspiratory crackles or crepitations, increased vocal resonance and pleural rub.
Pneumonia with pus filling the alveoli is the most common cause of acute consolidation. Other acute causes include blood from hemorrhage or contusions and transudative fluid from pulmonary edema seen in heart failure.
Chronic consolidation will be likely due to a malignant process. Bronchoalveolar carcinoma, lymphoma and lung neoplasms with post-obstructive pneumonia result in malignant cells causing the consolidation seen on radiograph. Chronic post-infection diseases such as organizing penumonia or eosinophilic pneumonia as also causes, with alveolar proteinosis a rare cause resulting in alveoli filled with protein.
Consolidated areas are radio opaque on chest radiograph and chest CT compared to normally air filled lung tissue. The distribution pattern of consolidation can aid in narrowing the potential differential diagnosis.
Increased density/opacity seen in individual lung lobes. Sharp delineation can be seen when consolidation reaches a fissure, since it does not cross. Air bronchograms can also be seen due to bronchi becoming visible against the dense diseased tissue. Volume loss is usually not seen.