Background: Alveolar fluid clearance is impaired in the majority of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Experimental studies have shown that a reduction of tidal volume increases alveolar fluid clearance. This study was aimed at assessing the impact of the response to a recruitment maneuver (RM) on net alveolar fluid clearance.
Methods: In 15 patients with ARDS, pulmonary edema fluid and plasma protein concentrations were measured before and after an RM, consisting of a positive end-expiratory pressure maintained 10 cm H2O above the lower inflection point of the pressure-volume curve during 15 min. Cardiorespiratory parameters were measured at baseline (before RM) and 1 and 4 h later. RM-induced lung recruitment was measured using the pressure-volume curve method. Net alveolar fluid clearance was measured by measuring changes in bronchoalveolar protein concentrations before and after RM.
Results: In responders, defined as patients showing an RM-induced increase in arterial oxygen tension of 20% of baseline value or greater, net alveolar fluid clearance (19 +/- 13%/h) and significant alveolar recruitment (113 +/- 101 ml) were observed. In nonresponders, neither net alveolar fluid clearance (-24 +/- 11%/h) nor alveolar recruitment was measured. Responders and nonresponders differed only in terms of lung morphology: Responders had a diffuse loss of aeration, whereas nonresponders had a focal loss of aeration, predominating in the lower lobes.
Conclusion: In the absence of alveolar recruitment and improvement in arterial oxygenation, RM decreases the rate of alveolar fluid clearance, suggesting that lung overinflation may be associated with epithelial dysfunction.