Hypercapnia Improves Tissue Oxygenation

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Wound infections are common, serious, surgical complications. Oxidative killing by neutrophils is the primary defense against surgical pathogens and increasing intraoperative tissue oxygen tension markedly reduces the risk of such infections. Since hypercapnia improves cardiac output and peripheral tissue perfusion, we tested the hypothesis that peripheral tissue oxygenation increases as a function of arterial carbon dioxide tension (Paco2) in anesthetized humans.


General anesthesia was induced with propofol and maintained with sevoflurane in 30% oxygen in 10 healthy volunteers. Subcutaneous tissue oxygen tension (Psqo2) was recorded from a subcutaneous tonometer. An oximeter probe on the upper arm measured muscle oxygen saturation. Cardiac output was monitored noninvasively. Paco2 was adjusted to 20, 30, 40, 50, or 60 mmHg in random order with each concentration being maintained for 45 min.


Increasing Paco2 linearly increased cardiac index and Psqo2: Psqo2 = 35.42 + 0.77 (Paco2), P < 0.001.


The observed difference in PsqO2 is clinically important because previous work suggests that comparable increases in tissue oxygenation reduced the risk of surgical infection from −8% to 2 to 3%. We conclude that mild intraoperative hypercapnia increased peripheral tissue oxygenation in healthy human subjects, which may improve resistance to surgical wound infections.

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