Hyperinflation and intrinsic positive end-expiratory pressure: less room to breathe

Bruce P Krieger
Respiration; International Review of Thoracic Diseases 2009, 77 (3): 344-50
Clinically, the symptoms and limited exercise capabilities of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) correlate better with changes in lung volumes than with airflow measurements. The realization of the clinical importance of hyperinflation has been overshadowed for decades by the use of forced expiratory volume during 1 s (FEV(1)) and the ratio of the FEV(1) to the forced expiratory vital capacity (FEV(1)/FVC) to categorize the severity and progression of COPD. Hyperinflation is defined as an elevation in the end-expiratory lung volume or functional residual capacity. When severe hyperinflation encroaches upon inspiratory capacity and limits vital capacity, it results in elevated intrinsic positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEPi) that places the diaphragm at a mechanical disadvantage and increases the work of breathing. Severe hyperinflation is the major physiologic cause of the resulting hypercarbic respiratory failure and patients' inability to transition (i.e. wean) from mechanical ventilatory support to spontaneous breathing. This paper reviews the basic physiologic principles of hyperinflation and its clinical manifestations as demonstrated by PEEPi. Also reviewed are the adverse effects of hyperinflation and PEEPi in critically ill patients with COPD, and methods for minimizing or counterbalancing these effects.

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