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Ann Emerg Med. 1996 Oct;28(4):403-7.

Utility of the expiratory capnogram in the assessment of bronchospasm.

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Division of Emergency Medicine, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, USA.



To determine whether the plateau phase of the expiratory capnogram (dco2/dt) can detect bronchospasm in adult asthma patients in the emergency department and to assess the correlation between dco2/dt and the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) in spontaneously breathing patients with asthma and in normal, healthy volunteers.


We carried out a prospective, blinded study in a university hospital ED. Twenty adults (12 women) with acute asthma and 28 normal adult volunteers (15 women) breathed through the sampling probe of an end-tidal CO2 monitor, and the expired CO2 waveform was recorded. The dco2/dt of the plateau (alveolar) phase for five consecutive regular expirations was measured and a mean value calculated for each patient. The best of three PEFRs was determined. The PEFR and dco2/dt were also recorded after treatment of the asthmatic patients with inhaled beta-agonists.


The mean +/- SD PEFR of the asthmatic subjects was 274 +/- 96 L/minute (57% of the predicted value), whereas that of the normal volunteers was 527 +/- 96 L/minute (103% of the predicted value) (P < .001). The mean dco2/dt of the asthmatic subjects (.26 +/- .06) was significantly steeper than that of the normal volunteers (.13 +/- .06) (P < .001). The dco2/dt was correlated with PEFR (r = .84, P < .001). In 18 asthmatic subjects the pretreatment and posttreatment percent predicted PEFRS were 58% +/- 17% and 74% +/- 17%, respectively (P < .001), whereas the dco2/dt values were .27 +/- .05 and .19 +/- .07, respectively (P < .005).


The dco2/dt is an effort-independent, rapid noninvasive measure that indicates significant bronchospasm in ED adult patients with asthma. The dco2/dt value is correlated with PEFR, an effort-dependent measure of airway obstruction. The change in dco2/dt with inhaled beta-agonists may be useful in monitoring the therapy of acute asthma.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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