Rationale: Exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease commonly causes hospitalization. The change in lung mechanics during exacerbation and its relationship to symptoms in spontaneously breathing individuals has not been described.
Objective: We hypothesized that changes in both airflow and lung volumes would occur during an exacerbation, but that only volume change would relate to symptomatic improvement.
Methods: Lung mechanics and resting dyspnea were recorded in 22 hospitalized patients during recovery from exacerbation.
Measurements: Spirometry, inspiratory capacity, respiratory system resistance and reactance, tidal breathing patterns, and expiratory flow limitation were recorded after nebulized bronchodilator therapy on the first 3 d after admission, at discharge, and 6 wk postadmission (Day 42). Prebronchodilator measurements were taken on Day 2, at discharge, and on Day 42.
Main results: Postbronchodilator inspiratory capacity increased 0.23 +/- 0.07 L by discharge and 0.42 +/- 0.1 L by Day 42, FEV1 rose 0.09 +/- 0.04 and 0.2 +/- 0.05 L at discharge and Day 42, respectively, and FVC increased 0.21 +/- 0.08 and 0.47 +/- 0.09 L at discharge and Day 42 (all p < 0.05). Consistent reduction in dyspnea was seen as the exacerbation resolved. Respiratory system resistance, FEV1/FVC, and expiratory flow limitation were unchanged throughout, indicating that changes in lung volume rather than airflow resistance predominated.
Conclusions: Improvement in operating lung volumes is the principal change seen as a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation resolves and increase in inspiratory capacity is a useful guide to a reduction in dyspnea.