Purpose of review: More than 230 million people have tested positive for severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 infection globally by September 2021. The infection affects primarily the function of the respiratory system, where ∼20% of infected individuals develop coronavirus-19 disease (COVID-19) pneumonia. This review provides an update on the pathophysiology of the COVID-19 acute lung injury.
Recent findings: In patients with COVID-19 pneumonia admitted to the intensive care unit, the PaO2/FiO2 ratio is typically <26.7 kPa (200 mmHg), whereas lung volume appears relatively unchanged. This hypoxaemia is likely determined by a heterogeneous mismatch of pulmonary ventilation and perfusion, mainly associated with immunothrombosis, endothelialitis and neovascularisation. During the disease, lung weight, elastance and dead space can increase, affecting respiratory drive, effort and dyspnoea. In some severe cases, COVID-19 pneumonia may lead to irreversible pulmonary fibrosis.
Summary: This review summarises the fundamental pathophysiological features of COVID-19 in the context of the respiratory system. It provides an overview of the key clinical manifestations of COVID-19 pneumonia, including gas exchange impairment, altered pulmonary mechanics and implications of abnormal chemical and mechanical stimuli. It also critically discusses the clinical implications for mechanical ventilation therapy.
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