Congenital lobar overinflation

Dr Henry Knipe and Rishi Agrawal et al.

Congenital lobar overinflation (CLO), previously called congenital lobar emphysema, is a congenital lung abnormality that results in progressive overinflation of one or more lobes of a neonate's lung. 

On imaging, it classically presents on chest radiographs as a hyperlucent lung segment with overinflation and contralateral mediastinal shift. 

Congenital lobar overinflation is more common in males (M: F = 3:1) 5.

Patients typically present with respiratory distress, most commonly in the neonatal period, and usually within the first six months of life 5.

In congenital lobar overinflation, a lobe (or more) become distended and may or may not have more alveoli. There are many presumed mechanisms for progressive overdistension of a lobe including obstruction, cartilage deficiency, dysplasia, and immaturity 2. Most cases are idiopathic.


CLO may be associated an aberrant left pulmonary artery 7 and also with congenital heart defects:

Interestingly there is quite a pronounced predilection for some lobes:

  • left upper lobe: most common, 40-45%
  • right middle lobe: 30%
  • right upper lobe: 20%
  • may involve more than a single lobe: 5%
  • much rarer in the lower lobes

Therefore despite the left upper lobe is most commonly affected, the right hemithorax is the most common side to be affected 6.

Plain radiograph
Immediate postpartum period

The affected lobe tends to appear opaque and homogeneous because of fetal lung fluid or it may show a diffuse reticular pattern that represents distended lymphatic channels filled with fetal lung fluid.

Later findings
  • appears as an area of hyperlucency in the lung with a paucity of vessels
  • mass effect with mediastinal shift and hemidiaphragmatic depression
  • decubitus films lying on the affected side will show little or no change in lung volume
  • lateral film may demonstrate posterior displacement of the heart

CT is usually performed to confirm the diagnosis, evaluate the mediastinal vascular structures, and to rule out other abnormalities. 

  • shows above features in greater detail
  • attenuation of vascular structures in affected lobe 4
  • may also show compressive atelectasis of neighbouring lobes

Mildly symptomatic patients are usually followed up. A lobectomy can be considered in severe cases 3.

General imaging differential considerations include:

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Article information

rID: 1157
Systems: Chest, Paediatrics
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Congenital lobar emphysema (CLE)
  • CLE
  • CLO
  • Congenital lobar overinflation (CLO)
  • Congenital lobar emphysema

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