Appropriate positive end expiratory pressure level in surfactant-treated preterm infants


Positive end expiratory pressure (PEEP) is routinely used when ventilating preterm infants, and high levels are recommended in those with severe respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Elevation of PEEP increases lung volume, as does surfactant administration. We postulated that in surfactant-treated infants even modest PEEP levels could result in overdistension and (CO2) retention. To test that hypothesis, lung volume, compliance and arterial blood gases were measured in eight preterm infants (median gestational age 28 weeks, range 26–35 weeks) at three PEEP levels. The infants, all with RDS, were studied at a median time of 18 h, (range 12–68 h) after their last dose of surfactant. Infants were routinely nursed at 3 cmH2O of PEEP, the PEEP level was then raised to 6 cmH2O or lowered to 0 cmH2O in random order. The new setting was maintained for 20 min; the PEEP level was then changed to the third level (0 or 6 cmH2O) again for 20 min. At the end of each 20-min period, lung volume, compliance and blood gases were measured. Lung volume was assessed by measuring functional residual capacity (FRC) using a helium dilution technique. Compliance was measured by relating the volume change from a positive pressure inflation maintained until no further volume change occurred to the pressure drop (peak inflating pressure PEEP). Increasing PEEP from 0 to 3 cmH2O and particularly to 6 cmH2O resulted in increases in FRC (P < 0.05), oxygenation (ns) and paCO2 (P < 0.02). Specific compliance (compliance/FRC) (P < 0.05) and pH (P < 0.02) fell.

Conclusion Following surfactant treatment, relatively low levels of positive end expiratory pressure (≤3 cmH2O) may be appropriate.

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Received: 20 April 1999 / Accepted: 26 May 1999

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Dimitriou, G., Greenough, A. & Laubscher, B. Appropriate positive end expiratory pressure level in surfactant-treated preterm infants. Eur J Pediatr 158, 888–891 (1999).

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  • Key words Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Lung volume
  • Positive end expiratory pressure