Rationale of dead space measurement by volumetric capnography

Anesth Analg. 2012 Apr;114(4):866-74. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e318247f6cc. Epub 2012 Mar 1.


Dead space is the portion of a tidal volume that does not participate in gas exchange because it does not get in contact with blood flowing through the pulmonary capillaries. It is commonly calculated using volumetric capnography, the plot of expired carbon dioxide (CO(2)) versus tidal volume, which is an easy bedside assessment of the inefficiency of a particular ventilatory setting. Today, Bohr's original dead space can be calculated in an entirely noninvasive and breath-by-breath manner as the mean alveolar partial pressure of CO(2) (Paco(2)) which can now be determined directly from the capnogram. The value derived from Enghoff's modification of Bohr's formula (using Paco(2) instead of PACO(2)) is a global index of the inefficiency of gas exchange rather than a true "dead space" because it is influenced by all causes of ventilation/perfusion mismatching, from real dead space to shunt. Therefore, the results obtained by Bohr's and Enghoff's formulas have different physiological meanings and clinicians must be conscious of such differences when interpreting patient data. In this article, we describe the rationale of dead space measurements by volumetric capnography and discuss its main clinical implications and the misconceptions surrounding it.

MeSH terms

  • Capnography / methods*
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration
  • Respiratory Dead Space / physiology*


  • Carbon Dioxide