Esophageal pressure monitoring: why, when and how?

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Purpose of review

Esophageal manometry has shown its usefulness to estimate transpulmonary pressure, that is lung stress, and the intensity of spontaneous effort in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome. However, clinical uptake of esophageal manometry in ICU is still low. Thus, the purpose of review is to describe technical tips to adequately measure esophageal pressure at the bedside, and then update the most important clinical applications of esophageal manometry in ICU.

Recent findings

Each esophageal balloon has its own nonstressed volume and it should be calibrated properly to measure pleural pressure accurately: transpulmonary pressure calculated on absolute esophageal pressure reflects values in the lung regions adjacent to the esophageal balloon (i.e. dependent to middle lung). Inspiratory transpulmonary pressure calculated from airway plateau pressure and the chest wall to respiratory system elastance ratio reasonably reflects lung stress in the nondependent ‘baby’ lung, at highest risk of hyperinflation. Also esophageal pressure can be used to detect and minimize patient self-inflicted lung injury.


Esophageal manometry is not a complicated technique. There is a large potential to improve clinical outcome in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, acting as an early detector of risk of lung injury from mechanical ventilation and vigorous spontaneous effort.

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