Volume-related and volume-independent effects of posture on esophageal and transpulmonary pressures in healthy subjects

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Mar;100(3):753-8. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00697.2005. Epub 2005 Nov 23.


Ventilator management decisions in acute lung injury could be better informed with knowledge of the patient's transpulmonary pressure, which can be estimated using measurements of esophageal pressure. Esophageal manometry is seldom used for this, however, in part because of a presumed postural artifact in the supine position. Here, we characterize the magnitude and variability of postural effects on esophageal pressure in healthy subjects to better assess its significance in patients with acute lung injury. We measured the posture-related changes in relaxation volume and total lung capacity in 10 healthy subjects in four postures: upright, supine, prone, and left lateral decubitus. Then, in the same subjects, we measured static pressure-volume characteristics of the lung over a wide range of lung volumes in each posture by using an esophageal balloon catheter. Transpulmonary pressure during relaxation (PLrel) averaged 3.7 (SD 2.0) cmH2O upright and -3.3 (SD 3.2) cmH2O supine. Approximately 58% of the decrease in PLrel between the upright and supine postures was due to a corresponding decrease in relaxation volume. The remaining 2.9-cmH2O difference is consistent with reported values of a presumed postural artifact. Relaxation volumes and pressures in prone and lateral postures were intermediate. To correct estimated transpulmonary pressure for the effect of lying supine, we suggest adding 3 cmH2O (95% confidence interval: -1 to +7 cmH2O). We conclude that postural differences in estimated transpulmonary pressure at a given lung volume are small compared with the substantial range of PLrel in patients with acute lung injury.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Catheterization
  • Esophagus / anatomy & histology
  • Esophagus / physiology*
  • Exhalation / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / anatomy & histology
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Lung Volume Measurements / methods
  • Male
  • Manometry
  • Middle Aged
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*