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Br J Anaesth. 1991 Apr;66(4):423-32.

Influence of age on atelectasis formation and gas exchange impairment during general anaesthesia.

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  • 1Department of Anaesthesiology, Huddinge University Hospital, Sweden.


We have studied the effects of anaesthesia on atelectasis formation and gas exchange in 45 patients of both sexes, smokers and nonsmokers, aged 23-69 yr. None of the patients showed clinical signs of pulmonary disease, and preoperative spirometry was normal. In the awake patient, partial pressure of arterial oxygen (PaO2) decreased with increasing age (P less than 0.001) and the alveolar-arterial oxygen partial pressure difference (PAO2-PaO2) increased with age (P less than 0.001). Shunt, assessed by the multiple inert gas elimination technique, was small (mean 0.5%) and uninfluenced by age. However, there was an increasing dispersion (log SD Q) of ventilation/perfusion ratios (VA/Q) and increasing perfusion of regions of low VA/Q (VA/Q less than 0.1) with increasing age (P less than 0.001 and P less than 0.05, respectively). No patient displayed any atelectasis as assessed by computed x-ray tomography of the chest. During inhalation anaesthesia (halothane or enflurane) with mechanical ventilation, 39 of 45 patients developed atelectasis and shunt. There was a strong correlation between the atelectatic area and the magnitude of shunt (r = 0.81, P less than 0.001). Atelectasis and shunt did not increase significantly with age, whereas log SD Q and perfusion of regions with low VA/Q ratios did (r = 0.55, P less than 0.001 and r = 0.35, P less than 0.05, respectively). Awake, the major determinant of PaO2 was perfusion of regions of low VA/Q ratios, which increased with age. During anaesthesia shunt influenced PaO2 most, low VA/Q being a secondary factor which, however, was increasingly important with increasing age, thus explaining the well-known age-dependent deterioration of arterial oxygenation during anaesthesia.

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