Clinical examination reliably detects intrinsic positive end-expiratory pressure in critically ill, mechanically ventilated patients

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1999 Jan;159(1):290-4. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.159.1.9805011.


Critically ill patients requiring mechanical ventilation often develop intrinsic positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEPi). Methods for its detection include an expiratory flow waveform display (not always available), an esophageal pressure transducer (invasive), or a relaxed or paralyzed patient. We sought to determine the accuracy of clinical examination for detecting PEEPi. Examiners blinded to waveform analysis assessed patients for the presence of PEEPi by inspection/palpation and auscultation. If either inspection/palpation or auscultation demonstrated PEEPi, it was said to be present by clinical exam. Clinicians with various levels of experience (attending, resident, student) made 503 observations of 71 patients. Sensitivity (SENS), specificity (SPEC), positive predictive value (PPV), negative predictive value (NPV), and likelihood ratios were determined for inspection/palpation, auscultation, and clinical exam. PEEPi was present during 69.8% of observations. SENS, SPEC, and PPV of clinical exam were 0.72, 0.91, and 0.95 respectively for the examiners as a whole. Likelihood ratio for PEEPi detection by clinical exam was 8.35. Attending intensivists displayed SPEC and PPV of 1.0. NPV was only 0.58 (likelihood ratio 0.31). We conclude that the clinical exam is very good for detecting PEEPi at all experience levels; and further, that the clinical exam is only modestly useful for ruling out PEEPi, therefore, other tests should be used if PEEPi is not detected by clinical exam.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Auscultation
  • Critical Illness / therapy*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palpation
  • Physical Examination / standards*
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Respiration, Artificial*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity