Introduction: The ventilator and the endotracheal tube impose additional workload in mechanically ventilated patients breathing spontaneously. The total work of breathing (WOB) includes elastic and resistive work. In a bench test we assessed the imposed WOB using 3100 A/3100 B SensorMedics high-frequency oscillatory ventilators.
Methods: A computer-controlled piston-driven test lung was used to simulate a spontaneously breathing patient. The test lung was connected to a high-frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV) ventilator by an endotracheal tube. The inspiratory and expiratory airway flows and pressures at various places were sampled. The spontaneous breath rate and volume, tube size and ventilator settings were simulated as representative of the newborn to adult range. The fresh gas flow rate was set at a low and a high level. The imposed WOB was calculated using the Campbell diagram.
Results: In the simulations for newborns (assumed body weight 3.5 kg) and infants (assumed body weight 10 kg) the imposed WOB (mean +/- standard deviation) was 0.22 +/- 0.07 and 0.87 +/- 0.25 J/l, respectively. Comparison of the imposed WOB in low and high fresh gas flow rate measurements yielded values of 1.63 +/- 0.32 and 0.96 +/- 0.24 J/l (P = 0.01) in small children (assumed body weight 25 kg), of 1.81 +/- 0.30 and 1.10 +/- 0.27 J/l (P < 0.001) in large children (assumed body weight 40 kg), and of 1.95 +/- 0.31 and 1.12 +/- 0.34 J/l (P < 0.01) in adults (assumed body weight 70 kg). High peak inspiratory flow and low fresh gas flow rate significantly increased the imposed WOB. Mean airway pressure in the breathing circuit decreased dramatically during spontaneous breathing, most markedly at the low fresh gas flow rate. This led to ventilator shut-off when the inspiratory flow exceeded the fresh gas flow.
Conclusion: Spontaneous breathing during HFOV resulted in considerable imposed WOB in pediatric and adult simulations, explaining the discomfort seen in those patients breathing spontaneously during HFOV. The level of imposed WOB was lower in the newborn and infant simulations, explaining why these patients tolerate spontaneous breathing during HFOV well. A high fresh gas flow rate reduced the imposed WOB. These findings suggest the need for a demand flow system based on patient need allowing spontaneous breathing during HFOV.