Can we estimate transpulmonary pressure without an esophageal balloon?—yes
A protective ventilation strategy is based on separation of lung and chest wall mechanics and determination of transpulmonary pressure. So far, this has required esophageal pressure measurement, which is cumbersome, rarely used clinically and associated with lack of consensus on the interpretation of measurements. We have developed an alternative method based on a positive end expiratory pressure (PEEP) step procedure where the PEEP-induced change in end-expiratory lung volume is determined by the ventilator pneumotachograph. In pigs, lung healthy patients and acute lung injury (ALI) patients, it has been verified that the determinants of the change in end-expiratory lung volume following a PEEP change are the size of the PEEP step and the elastic properties of the lung, ∆PEEP × Clung. As a consequence, lung compliance can be calculated as the change in end-expiratory lung volume divided by the change in PEEP and esophageal pressure measurements are not needed. When lung compliance is determined in this way, transpulmonary driving pressure can be calculated on a breath-by-breath basis. As the end-expiratory transpulmonary pressure increases as much as PEEP is increased, it is also possible to determine the end-inspiratory transpulmonary pressure at any PEEP level. Thus, the most crucial factors of ventilator induced lung injury can be determined by a simple PEEP step procedure. The measurement procedure can be repeated with short intervals, which makes it possible to follow the course of the lung disease closely. By the PEEP step procedure we may also obtain information (decision support) on the mechanical consequences of changes in PEEP and tidal volume performed to improve oxygenation and/or carbon dioxide removal.