Mechanical Ventilation and Diaphragmatic Atrophy in Critically Ill Patients: An Ultrasound Study

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Mechanical ventilation contributes to diaphragmatic atrophy and dysfunction, and few techniques exist to assess diaphragmatic function: the purpose of this study was to quantify diaphragm atrophy in a population of critically ill mechanically ventilated patients with ultrasound and to identify risk factors that can worsen diaphragmatic activity.


Prospective observational study.


ICU of a 1,200-bed university hospital.


Newly intubated adult critically ill patients.


Diaphragm thickness in the zone of apposition was measured daily with ultrasound, from the first day of mechanical ventilation till discharge to the main ward.

Measurements and Main Results:

Daily atrophy rate (ΔTdi/d) was calculated as the reduction in percentage from the previous measurement. To analyze the difference in atrophy rate (ΔTdi/d), ventilation was categorized into four classes: spontaneous breathing or continuous positive airway pressure; pressure support ventilation 5–12 cm H2O (low pressure support ventilation); pressure support ventilation greater than 12 cm H2O (high pressure support ventilation); and controlled mechanical ventilation. Multivariate analysis with ventilation support and other clinical variables was performed to identify risk factors for atrophy. Forty patients underwent a total of 153 ultrasonographic evaluations. Mean (SD) ΔTdi/d was –7.5% (12.3) during controlled mechanical ventilation, –5.3% (12.9) at high pressure support ventilation, –1.5% (10.9) at low pressure support ventilation, +2.3% (9.5) during spontaneous breathing or continuous positive airway pressure. At multivariate analysis, only the ventilation support was predictive of diaphragm atrophy rate. Pressure support predicted diaphragm thickness with coefficient –0.006 (95% CI, –0.010 to –0.002; p = 0.006).


In critically ill mechanically ventilated patients, there is a linear relationship between ventilator support and diaphragmatic atrophy rate.

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