Objective: To assess respiratory mechanics on the 1st and 5th days of mechanical ventilation in a cohort of brain-damaged patients on positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) of 8 cmH(2)O or zero PEEP (ZEEP).
Design and setting: Physiological study with randomized control trial design in a multidisciplinary intensive care unit of a university hospital.
Patients and measurements: Twenty-one consecutive mechanically ventilated patients with severe brain damage and no acute lung injury were randomly assigned to be ventilated with ZEEP (n = 10) or with 8 cmH(2)O of PEEP (n = 11). Respiratory mechanics and arterial blood gases were assessed on days 1 and day 5 of mechanical ventilation.
Results: In the ZEEP group on day 1 static elastance and minimal resistance were above normal limits (18.9 +/- 3.8 cmH(2)O/l and 5.6 +/- 2.2 cmH(2)O/l per second, respectively); on day 5 static elastance and iso-CO(2) minimal resistance values were higher than on day 1 (21.2 +/- 4.1 cmH(2)O/l; 7.0 +/- 1.9 cmH(2)O/l per second, respectively). In the PEEP group these parameters did not change significantly. One of the ten patients on ZEEP developed acute lung injury. On day 5 there was a significant decrease in PaO(2)/FIO(2) in both groups.
Conclusions: On day 1 of mechanical ventilation patients with brain damage exhibit abnormal respiratory mechanics. After 5 days of mechanical ventilation on ZEEP static elastance and minimal resistance increased significantly, perhaps reflecting "low lung volume" injury. Both could be prevented by administration of moderate levels of PEEP.