Respiratory system mechanics in acute respiratory distress syndrome

Respir Care Clin N Am. 2003 Sep;9(3):297-319. doi: 10.1016/s1078-5337(03)00040-6.


Respiratory mechanics research is important to the advancement of ARDS management. Twenty-eight years ago, research on the effects of PEEP and VT indicated that the lungs of ARDS patients did not behave in a manner consistent with homogenously distributed lung injury. Both Suter and colleagues] and Katz and colleagues reported that oxygenation continued to improve as PEEP increased (suggesting lung recruitment), even though static Crs decreased and dead-space ventilation increased (suggesting concurrent lung overdistension). This research strongly suggested that without VT reduction, the favorable effects of PEEP on lung recruitment are offset by lung overdistension at end-inspiration. The implications of these studies were not fully appreciated at that time, in part because the concept of ventilator-associated lung injury was in its nascent state. Ten years later. Gattinoni and colleagues compared measurements of static pressure-volume curves with FRC and CT scans of the chest in ARDS. They found that although PEEP recruits collapsed (primarily dorsal) lung segments, it simultaneously causes overdistension of non-dependent, inflated lung regions. Furthermore, the specific compliance of the aerated, residually healthy lung tissue is essentially normal. The main implication of these findings is that traditional mechanical ventilation practice was injecting excessive volumes of gas into functionally small lungs. Therefore, the emblematic low static Crs measured in ARDS reflects not only surface tension phenomena and recruitment of collapsed airspaces but also overdistension of the remaining healthy lung. The studies reviewed in this article support the concept that lung injury in ARDS is heterogeneously distributed, with resulting disparate mechanical stresses, and indicate the additional complexity from alterations in chest wall mechanics. Most of these studies, however, were published before lung-protective ventilation. Therefore, further studies are needed to refine the understanding of the mechanical effects of lung-protective ventilation. Although low-VT ventilation is becoming a standard of care for ARDS patients, many issues remain unresolved; among them are the role of PEEP and recruitment maneuvers in either preventing or promoting lung injury and the effects of respiratory rate and graded VT reduction on mechanical stress in the lungs. The authors believe that advances in mechanical ventilation that may further improve patient outcomes are likely to come from more sophisticated monitoring capabilities (ie, the ability to measure P1 or perhaps Cslice) than from the creation of new modes of ventilatory support.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration
  • Respiration, Artificial*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / therapy*
  • Respiratory Mechanics*