Postoperative pulmonary dysfunction (PPD) is a frequent and significant complication after cardiac surgery. It contributes to morbidity and mortality and increases hospitalization stay and its associated costs. Its pathogenesis is not clear but it seems to be related to the development of a systemic inflammatory response with a subsequent pulmonary inflammation. Many factors have been described to contribute to this inflammatory response, including surgical procedure with sternotomy incision, effects of general anesthesia, topical cooling, and extracorporeal circulation (ECC) and mechanical ventilation (VM). Protective ventilation strategies can reduce the incidence of atelectasis (which still remains one of the principal causes of PDD) and pulmonary infections in surgical patients. In this way, the open lung approach (OLA), a protective ventilation strategy, has demonstrated attenuating the inflammatory response and improving gas exchange parameters and postoperative pulmonary functions with a better residual functional capacity (FRC) when compared with a conventional ventilatory strategy. Additionally, maintaining low frequency ventilation during ECC was shown to decrease the incidence of PDD after cardiac surgery, preserving lung function.
While being an essential part of general anesthesia for surgery and at times even a life-saving intervention in critically ill patients, mechanical ventilation has a strong potential to cause harm. Certain ventilation strategies could prevent, at least to some extent, the injury caused by this intervention. One essential element of so-called 'lung-protective' ventilation is the use of lower tidal volumes. It is uncertain whether higher levels of positive end-expiratory pressures have lung-protective properties as well. There are indications that too high oxygen fractions of inspired air, or too high blood oxygen targets, are harmful. Circumstantial evidence further suggests that spontaneous modes of ventilation are to be preferred over controlled ventilation to prevent harm to respiratory muscle. Finally, the use of restrictive sedation strategies in critically ill patients indirectly prevents ventilation-induced injury, as daily spontaneous awakening and breathing trials and bolus instead of continuous sedation are associated with shorter duration of ventilation and shorten the exposure to the injurious effects of ventilation.
Prolonged breathing of very high F(IO(2)) (F(IO(2)) ≥ 0.9) uniformly causes severe hyperoxic acute lung injury (HALI) and, without a reduction of F(IO(2)), is usually fatal. The severity of HALI is directly proportional to P(O(2)) (particularly above 450 mm Hg, or an F(IO(2)) of 0.6) and exposure duration. Hyperoxia produces extraordinary amounts of reactive O(2) species that overwhelms natural anti-oxidant defenses and destroys cellular structures through several pathways. Genetic predisposition has been shown to play an important role in HALI among animals, and some genetics-based epidemiologic research suggests that this may be true for humans as well. Clinically, the risk of HALI likely occurs when F(IO(2)) exceeds 0.7, and may become problematic when F(IO(2)) exceeds 0.8 for an extended period of time. Both high-stretch mechanical ventilation and hyperoxia potentiate lung injury and may promote pulmonary infection. During the 1960s, confusion regarding the incidence and relevance of HALI largely reflected such issues as the primitive control of F(IO(2)), the absence of PEEP, and the fact that at the time both ALI and ventilator-induced lung injury were unknown. The advent of PEEP and precise control over F(IO(2)), as well as lung-protective ventilation, and other adjunctive therapies for severe hypoxemia, has greatly reduced the risk of HALI for the vast majority of patients requiring mechanical ventilation in the 21st century. However, a subset of patients with very severe ARDS requiring hyperoxic therapy is at substantial risk for developing HALI, therefore justifying the use of such adjunctive therapies.