Contribution of the Closure of Pulmonary Units to Impaired Oxygenation during Anesthesia

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Associations between airway closure, alveolar-arterial oxygen tension difference (A-aD0l), and positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) were investigated in anesthetized, paralyzed, artifically ventilated patients. The difference between closing capacity (CC) and functional residual capacity (FRC) was measured with a modified standard technique using a bolus of N2 to detect airway closure in denitrogenated patients. At Fl0, = 0.4 during anesthesia before application of PEEP, A-aD0, was larger than expected in comparable conscious subjects and increased at about 1 mmHg/yr of age. CC was below FRC in young subjects but above FRC in older subjects, the two coinciding at about age 43 yr. Thus, during anesthesia both A-aDoi and CC-FRC increased with age. The proximity and point of coincidence of CC and FRC suggested that CC is reduced during anesthesia.In patients whose CC exceeded FRC, imposition of PEEP estimated to be sufficient to elevate FRC above CC decreased A-aD0t to a level comparable to that in patients exhibiting airway closure below FRC without PEEP. Patients in whom CC was initially below FRC failed to improve oxygenation with PEEP. At least half of the decrease in A-aD0l associated with application of PEEP persisted for 20–30 min after the withdrawal of PEEP, although the withdrawal resulted in an immediate recurrence of airway closure above FRC. The authors conclude that closure of pulmonary units operates in some circumstances to contribute to pulmonary dysfunction in anesthetized patients but is neither the only nor necessarily the most important such mechanism

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