Expiratory flow limitation as a determinant of orthopnea in acute left heart failure

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2000 Mar 1;35(3):690-700. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(99)00627-0.


Objectives: To assess the contribution of expiratory flow limitation (FL) in orthopnea during acute left heart failure (LHF).

Background: Orthopnea is typical of acute LHF, but its mechanisms are not completely understood. In other settings, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dyspnea correlates best with expiratory FL and can, therefore, be interpreted as, in part, the result of a hyperinflation-related increased load to the inspiratory muscles. As airway obstruction is common in acute LHF, postural FL could contribute to orthopnea.

Methods: Flow limitation was assessed during quiet breathing by applying a negative pressure at the mouth throughout tidal expiration (negative expiratory pressure [NEP]). Flow limitation was assumed when expiratory flow did not increase during NEP. Twelve patients with acute LHF aged 40-98 years were studied seated and supine and compared with 10 age-matched healthy subjects.

Results: Compared with controls, patients had rapid shallow breathing with slightly increased minute ventilation and mean inspiratory flow. Breathing pattern was not influenced by posture. Flow limitation was observed in four patients when seated and in nine patients when supine. In seven cases, FL was induced or aggravated by the supine position. This coincided with orthopnea in six cases. Only one out of the five patients without orthopnea had posture dependent FL. Control subjects did not exhibit FL in either position.

Conclusions: Expiratory FL appears to be common in patients with acute LHF, particularly so when orthopnea is present. Its postural aggravation could contribute to LHF-related orthopnea.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Heart Failure / complications*
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate
  • Posture
  • Prognosis
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / physiopathology
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / complications*
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / physiopathology