BACKGROUND: Cardiac surgery can be complicated by pulmonary abnormalities, but it is unclear how various manifestations interrelate.
METHODS: A prospective study in the intensive care unit was performed on 26 mechanically ventilated patients without cardiac failure within 3 h after elective cardiac surgery involving cardiopulmonary bypass. Oedema (extravascular lung water, EVLW) was measured by the thermal-dye technique and permeability by a dual radionuclide technique, yielding a pulmonary leak index (PLI). Radiographic, mechanical and gas exchange features were used to calculate the lung injury score (LIS), ranging between 0 and 4. Evidence for left lower lobe atelectasis was obtained from plain radiographs. The plasma colloid osmotic pressure (COP) was measured by an oncometer.
RESULTS: The EVLW (normal, <7 ml/kg) was elevated in 36% of patients and the PLI (normal, <14.1 x 10(-3)/min) in 44%, but the variables did not interrelate directly. Patients with a supranormal EVLW had a lower COP than patients with normal EVLW. The duration of mechanical ventilation was prolonged in patients (20%) with EVLW > 10 ml/kg. There was no difference in EVLW and PLI in patients with LIS < 1 and LIS > 1 (31% of patients). In patients with radiographic evidence for atelectasis (46%), the positive end-expiratory pressure and inspiratory O2 fraction to maintain oxygenation were higher than in those without.
CONCLUSIONS: After cardiac surgery, mild pulmonary oedema is relatively common, even in the absence of high filling pressures, and is mainly attributable to a low COP, irrespective of increased permeability in about one-half of patients. It may prolong mechanical ventilation at EVLW > 10 ml/kg. However, pulmonary radiographic and ventilatory abnormalities may result, at least in part, from atelectasis rather than increased permeability oedema.