Background: Lung clearance index (LCI) is a measure of abnormal ventilation distribution derived from the multiple breath inert gas washout (MBW) technique. We aimed to determine the clinical utility of LCI in non-CF bronchiectasis, and to assess two novel MBW parameters that distinguish between increases in LCI due to specific ventilation inequality (LCIvent) and increased respiratory dead space (LCIds).
Methods: Forty-three patients with non-CF bronchiectasis and 18 healthy control subjects underwent MBW using the sulphur hexafluoride wash-in technique, and data from 40 adults with CF were re-analysed. LCIvent and LCIds were calculated using a theoretical two-compartment lung model, and represent the proportional increase in LCI above its ideal value due to specific ventilation inequality and increased respiratory dead space, respectively.
Results: LCI was significantly raised in patients with non-CF bronchiectasis compared to healthy controls (9.99 versus 7.28, p < 0.01), and discriminated well between these two groups (area under receiver operating curve = 0.90, versus 0.83 for forced expiratory volume in one second [% predicted]). LCI, LCIvent and LCIds were repeatable (intraclass correlation coefficient > 0.75), and correlated significantly with measures of spirometric airflow obstruction.
Conclusion: LCI is repeatable, discriminatory, and is associated with spirometric airflow obstruction in patients with non-CF bronchiectasis. LCIvent and LCIds are a practical and repeatable alternative to phase III slope analysis and may allow a further level of mechanistic information to be extracted from the MBW test in patients with severe ventilation heterogeneity.