Comparison of nitrogen washout and plethysmographic measurements of lung volume in healthy infants

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1993 Dec;148(6 Pt 1):1496-501. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/148.6_Pt_1.1496.


Functional residual capacity (FRC), the only lung volume to be assessed routinely in infants, can be measured using plethysmography or gas dilution. Although it is well recognized that both methods yield similar FRC values in healthy adults, gas dilution techniques have consistently produced lower values in healthy infants when compared with plethysmography. However, interpretation of this difference is difficult since data comparing the different techniques within the same infants have rarely been reported. We performed paired measurements of FRC using an automated open-circuit nitrogen washout technique (FRCN2) and whole-body plethysmography (FRCpleth) in 11 healthy infants with a median age of 12 months (range, 2 to 18 months). The mean (SD) FRC was 21.7 (4.0) ml/kg for the N2 washout and 25.6 (4.9) ml/kg for plethysmography. The mean within-subject difference between FRCN2 and FRCpleth was 3.9 (range, -0.3 to 7.2) ml/kg (p = 0.001). Both N2 washout and plethysmography yielded reproducible results, with the mean of the coefficients of variation (CV) being 3.6 and 3.9%, respectively. The results from these paired measurements support previously reported data from separate populations of infants which suggest that gas dilution techniques consistently yield smaller values for FRC than do those measured by plethysmography.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Functional Residual Capacity*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lung Volume Measurements / methods*
  • Male
  • Nitrogen / analysis*
  • Plethysmography, Whole Body*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tidal Volume


  • Nitrogen