Background: After upper abdominal surgery, patients have been observed to have alterations in respiratory movements of the rib cage and abdomen and respiratory shifts in pleural and abdominal pressure that suggest dysfunction of the diaphragm. The validity of making such deductions about diaphragm function from these observations is open to discussion.
Methods: In eight adult patients, American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status 2, scheduled for elective cardiac surgery, we measured respiratory rate, tidal volume, rib cage and abdominal cross-section changes, and esophageal (Pes) and gastric (Pga) pressures preoperatively, 1 day postoperatively, and 5 days postoperatively. These data were analyzed in detail by following the variables through each respiratory cycle.
Results: Mean delta Pga/delta Pes decreased from 0.73 preoperatively to -0.56 1 day postoperatively and recovered to 0.47 5 days postoperatively. Plots of Pes against Pga and rib cage against abdominal expansion (Konno-Mead diagrams) were constructed. Six patients showed a postoperative pattern of breathing similar to that seen in patients who have undergone abdominal surgery: a decrease in the ratio of delta Pga/delta Pes and a shift toward rib cage expansion, with an increase in breathing rate and a decrease in tidal volume. This change was accomplished in most cases by the use of abdominal muscles in expiration with an increase in inspiratory intercostal muscle action without an increase in diaphragm activation, that is, a shift in the normal balance of respiratory muscle use in favor of muscles other than the diaphragm. A different ventilatory pattern was observed in the other two patients, consisting of minimal rib cage excursion and a large abdominal excursion. In these cases tidal volume was generated largely by contraction and relaxation of abdominal muscles with probable reduction in diaphragm activity. In addition, five patients exhibited positive changes in Pes at the end of inspiration that corresponded to closure of the upper airway, relaxation of inspiratory muscles, and subsequent opening of the airway with sudden exhalation, producing a grunt.
Conclusions: Indirect measurements of respiratory muscle action based on pressure and chest wall motion are easier than are assessments based on implanted electromyogram electrodes and sonomicrometers that measure electric activity and muscle length, respectively, directly. Interpretation requires numerous assumptions and detailed analysis of phase relations among the variables. In patients after thoracic surgery, however, these measurements strongly point to a shift in the distribution of motor output toward muscles other than the diaphragm.