Tonic Diaphragmatic Activity in Critically III Children With and Without Ventilatory Support

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Infants have to actively maintain their end expiratory lung volume (EELV). In mechanically ventilated infants, the diaphragm stays activated until the end of expiration (tonic activity), contributing to EELV maintenance. It is unclear whether tonic activity compensates for the lack of laryngeal braking due to intubation or if it is normally present.


To determine if tonic diaphragm activity remains after extubation in infants, and if it can be observed in older children.


Prospective observational study of pediatric patients ventilated for >24 hr. Diaphragm electrical activity (EAdi) was recorded using a specific nasogastric catheter during four periods: (i) the acute phase, (ii) pre-extubation, (iii) post-extubation, and (iv) at PICU discharge. Tonic EAdi was defined as the EAdi in the last quartile of expiration.


Fifty-five patients, median age 10 months (Interquartile range: 1–48) were studied. In infants (<1 year, n = 28), tonic EAdi was always present, and represented 33% (22–43) of inspiratory EAdi at PICU discharge. No significant change was observed between pre- and post-extubation periods. In older patients (n = 27), tonic activity was negligible as a whole, but 10 patients exhibited significant tonic EAdi at one time-point during PICU stay. Bronchiolitis was the only independent factor associated with tonic EAdi.


In infants, tonic EAdi remains involved in ventilatory control after extubation and restoration of laryngeal braking. Tonic EAdi may play a pathophysiological role in bronchiolitis and it can be reactivated in older patients. The interest of tonic EAdi as a tool to titrate mechanical ventilation warrants further evaluation.

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