Objective: To ascertain whether pressure-controlled ventilation offers any advantage with respect to conventional controlled mechanical ventilation with decelerating flow.
Design: Prospective, comparative study.
Setting: Intensive care unit.
Patients: Eleven consecutive critically ill adult patients.
Measurements and main results: Study of respiratory mechanics and arterial blood gases after 30 mins of pressure-controlled ventilation. Repetition of the same measurements after 30 mins of controlled mechanical ventilation with decelerating flow waveform, with equal tidal volumes, using a commercially available mechanical ventilator. Student's t-test for paired comparisons. A lesser maximum inspiratory flow rate was required for pressure-controlled ventilation (55.7 +/- 16 L/sec) than for controlled mechanical ventilation (72 +/- 2 L/sec) (p < .001). Nevertheless, the peak pressures measured in the orotracheal tubes of the patients were higher in pressure-controlled ventilation (20.4 +/- 3.5 cm H2O) than in controlled mechanical ventilation (18.4 +/- 4.8 cm H2O) (p < .05). This model measured pressure in the inspiratory line, providing erroneous information regarding the behavior of pressures in the airway. The peak pressure measured by the ventilator was significantly higher in controlled mechanical ventilation than in pressure-controlled ventilation and was, in addition, reached at initiation of inspiration in ten of 11 patients with controlled mechanical ventilation, while peak pressure measured in the orotracheal tube was invariably reached at the end of the inspiration, both in pressure-controlled ventilation and controlled mechanical ventilation. The rest of the parameters analyzed, including end-inspiratory pressure, mean pressure, intrinsic positive end-expiratory pressure, and arterial blood gases, showed no differences. The difference between quasi-static compliances almost reached statistical significance (72 +/- 25.4 mL/cm H2O in pressure-controlled ventilation vs. 68.8 +/- 24.3 mL/cm H2O in controlled mechanical ventilation; p = .052).
Conclusions: Our study failed to demonstrate any important difference between pressure-controlled ventilation and controlled mechanical ventilation with decelerating inspiratory flow waveform. The differences in the airway pressures detected by the ventilator are spurious and are due to the place (inspiratory line) where these pressures were measured. The difference between the peak pressure measured in the orotracheal tube has statistical, but not clinical, value and is lower in controlled mechanical ventilation. Based on the limited number of variables we studied and unless the tendency indicated in the quasi-static compliance is demonstrated in the future, we do not believe that pressure-controlled ventilation contributes any uniqueness to the theory or practice of mechanical ventilation.