Changes in Respiratory Muscle Thickness during Mechanical Ventilation: Focus on Expiratory Muscles

Zhong-Hua Shi, Heder de Vries, Harm-Jan de Grooth, Annemijn H. Jonkman, Yingrui Zhang, Mark Haaksma, Peter M. van de Ven, Angelique A. M. E. de Man, Armand Girbes, Pieter R. Tuinman, Jian-Xin Zhou, Coen Ottenheijm, Leo Heunks*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The lateral abdominal wall muscles are recruited with active expiration, as may occur with high breathing effort, inspiratory muscle weakness, or pulmonary hyperinflation. The effects of critical illness and mechanical ventilation on these muscles are unknown. This study aimed to assess the reproducibility of expiratory muscle (i.e., lateral abdominal wall muscles and rectus abdominis muscle) ultrasound and the impact of tidal volume on expiratory muscle thickness, to evaluate changes in expiratory muscle thickness during mechanical ventilation, and to compare this to changes in diaphragm thickness. Methods: Two raters assessed the interrater and intrarater reproducibility of expiratory muscle ultrasound (n = 30) and the effect of delivered tidal volume on expiratory muscle thickness (n = 10). Changes in the thickness of the expiratory muscles and the diaphragm were assessed in 77 patients with at least two serial ultrasound measurements in the first week of mechanical ventilation. Results: The reproducibility of the measurements was excellent (interrater intraclass correlation coefficient: 0.994 [95% CI, 0.987 to 0.997]; intrarater intraclass correlation coefficient: 0.992 [95% CI, 0.957 to 0.998]). Expiratory muscle thickness decreased by 3.0 ± 1.7% (mean ± SD) with tidal volumes of 481 ± 64 ml (P < 0.001). The thickness of the expiratory muscles remained stable in 51 of 77 (66%), decreased in 17 of 77 (22%), and increased in 9 of 77 (12%) patients. Reduced thickness resulted from loss of muscular tissue, whereas increased thickness mainly resulted from increased interparietal fasciae thickness. Changes in thickness of the expiratory muscles were not associated with changes in the thickness of the diaphragm (R 2= 0.013; P = 0.332). Conclusions: Thickness measurement of the expiratory muscles by ultrasound has excellent reproducibility. Changes in the thickness of the expiratory muscles occurred in 34% of patients and were unrelated to changes in diaphragm thickness. Increased expiratory muscle thickness resulted from increased thickness of the fasciae.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)748-759
Number of pages12
Early online date2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2021

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