Physiologic evaluation of 4 weeks of nocturnal nasal positive pressure ventilation in stable hypercapnic patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Respiration. 2001;68(6):573-83. doi: 10.1159/000050575.


Background: The long-term daily use of noninvasive mechanical ventilation (NIMV) to treat chronic respiratory failure in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients is not widely recommended, partly because of a lack of clear clinical results and partly because the physiological mechanisms by which the daily application of NIMV would be helpful in these patients have not yet been clarified.

Objectives: We designed a physiological study in order to assess the effects of supervised long-term NIMV on gas exchange, respiratory muscle function, pulmonary mechanics and to ascertain the possible effect of the treatment in responders and nonresponders.

Methods: Fourteen consecutive inpatients with stable hypercapnic COPD (pH = 7.37 +/- 0.01; PaCO(2) = 56.73 +/- 6.48 mm Hg) underwent 4 weeks of nocturnal NIMV delivered with a bilevel ventilator 'physiologically' set to reduce tidal transdiaphragmatic pressure (Pdi) by at least 50% and the amount of dynamic intrinsic positive end-expiratory pressure by 70%. Various measurements were compared with those obtained in a control group of consecutive patients with comparable baseline characteristics who refused NIMV and underwent breathing exercises for the same period of time.

Results: By the end of the 4 weeks NIMV had induced a slight but significant (p < 0.01) reduction in resting PaCO(2) (53.78 +/- 5.64 mm Hg) associated with a decrease in the pressure time product of the diaphragm per minute (from 172 +/- 60 to 136 +/- 61 cm H(2)O/l/s; p < 0.05). This latter value was primarily due to a significant shortening of the inspiratory duty cycle, while Pdi and lung mechanics were not modified. Eight of the 13 NIMV-treated patients (1 dropped out for nonmedical reasons) had a clear reduction in PaCO(2) (>3 mm Hg or >5% from enrollment) and were classified as responders. The acute reduction in PaCO(2) during the first trial with NIMV resulted to be a strong index of the final response. The subgroup of responders had a significantly increased maximal Pdi (from 41 +/- 19 to 49 +/- 23 cm H(2)O, p < 0.05) and an enhanced ability of the ventilatory pump to clear CO(2) (9.7 +/- 3.4 vs. 7.2 +/- 2.9 cm H(2)O x s/min; p < 0.01). No significant changes were observed in the control group.

Conclusions: These results suggest that in a remarkable and identifyable proportion of patients with stable hypercapnic COPD, nocturnal NIMV may decrease resting PaCO(2), reraising the role of chronically supporting the respiratory pump.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia / etiology
  • Hypercapnia / physiopathology
  • Hypercapnia / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / therapy*
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange
  • Respiratory Mechanics
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiopathology