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Physiology of positive-pressure ventilation 

Physiology of positive-pressure ventilation
Physiology of positive-pressure ventilation

Göran Hedenstierna

and Hans Ulrich Rothen

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date: 19 February 2020

During positive pressure ventilation the lung volume is reduced because of loss of respiratory muscle tone. This promotes airway closure that occurs in dependent lung regions. Gas absorption behind the closed airway results sooner or later in atelectasis depending on the inspired oxygen concentration. The elevated airway and alveolar pressures squeeze blood flow down the lung so that a ventilation/perfusion mismatch ensues with more ventilation going to the upper lung regions and more perfusion going to the lower, dependent lung. Positive pressure ventilation may impede the return of venous blood to the thorax and right heart. This raises venous pressure, causing an increase in systemic capillary pressure with increased capillary leakage and possible oedema formation in peripheral organs. Steps that can be taken to counter the negative effects of mechanical ventilation include an increase in lung volume by recruitment of collapsed lung and an appropriate positive end-expiratory pressure, to keep aerated lung open and to prevent cyclic airway closure. Maintaining normo- or hypervolaemia to make the pulmonary circulation less vulnerable to increased airway and alveolar pressures, and preserving or mimicking spontaneous breaths, in addition to the mechanical breaths, since they may improve matching of ventilation and blood flow, may increase venous return and decrease systemic organ oedema formation (however, risk of respiratory muscle fatigue, and even overexpansion of lung if uncontrolled).

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