Background: The exact mechanism by which tracheostomy results in clinical improvement in respiratory function and liberation from mechanical ventilation remains unknown. Physiologic dead space, which includes both normal and abnormal components of non-gas exchange tidal volume, is a clinical measure of the efficiency of ventilation. Theoretically, tracheostomy should reduce dead space ventilation and improve pulmonary mechanics, thereby facilitating weaning from mechanical ventilation.
Methods: This study compares arterial blood gases (ABG), pulmonary mechanics, including minute ventilation (VE) and dead space ventilation (Vd/Vt) within 24 hours before and after tracheostomy in 45 patients admitted to a surgical intensive care unit.
Results: There was no difference noted in patients' ABG or VE. Pre- and posttracheostomy change in Vd/Vt was negligible (50.7 and 10 vs. 51.9 and 11; p = NS). On subgroup analysis, those patients that were weaned from mechanical ventilation with 72 hours of tracheostomy (T3) were compared with those patients weaned from mechanical ventilation 5 days or more after tracheostomy (T+5). Again, no difference was found in pulmonary mechanics or Vd/Vt pre- and posttracheostomy.
Conclusion: There is minimal improvement in pulmonary mechanics after tracheostomy. The change in physiologic dead space posttracheostomy does not predict the outcome of weaning from mechanical ventilation. Tracheostomy does allow better pulmonary toilet, and easier initiation and removal of mechanical ventilation and control of the upper airway.