Purpose of review: Volumetric capnography (VCap) measures the kinetics of carbon dioxide (CO2) elimination on a breath-by-breath basis. A volumetric capnogram contains extensive physiological information about metabolic production, circulatory transport and CO2 elimination within the lungs. VCap is also the best clinical tool to measure dead spaces allowing a detailed analysis of the functional components of each tidal volume, thereby providing clinically useful hints about the lung's efficiency of gas exchange. Difficulties in its bedside measurement, oversimplifications of its interpretation along with prevailing misconceptions regarding dead space analysis have, however, limited its adoption as a routine tool for monitoring mechanically ventilated patients.
Recent findings: Improvements in CO2 measuring technologies and more advanced algorithms for faster and more accurate analysis of volumetric capnograms have increased our physiological understanding and thus the clinical usefulness of VCap. The recently validated VCap-based method for estimating alveolar partial pressure of CO2 provided a breakthrough for a fully noninvasive breath-by-breath measurement of physiological dead space.
Summary: Recent advances in VCap and our improved understanding of its clinical implications may help in overcoming the known limitations and reluctances to include expired CO2 kinetics and dead space analysis in routine bedside monitoring. It is about time to start using this powerful monitoring tool to support decision making in the intensive care environment.