Body position changes redistribute lung computed-tomographic density in patients with acute respiratory failure

L. Gattinoni, P. Pelosi, G. Vitale, A. Pesenti, L. D'Andrea, D. Mascheroni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ten patients with parenchymal acute respiratory failure (ARF) underwent computed tomography (CT) scans while in the supine and prone positions. At equal levels of positive end-expiratory pressure, the authors measured the changes of CT density in dorsal and ventral basilar lung regions induced by the change of position as well as alterations of gas exchange. The level of venous admixture did not change with body position. The CT scan image of each lung was fractionated into ten levels from dorsal to ventral, each constituting 10% of the lung height. After measuring each lung fraction, the volume, the average CT number, its frequency distribution, and the expected normal value, we computed the lung tissue mass, the excess tissue mass, and the fraction of normally inflated tissue (excess tissue mass = amount of 'tissue', which includes edema, cells, and blood in excess of the expected normal value). We also estimated the superimposed hydrostatic pressure on each lung region. We found that the excess lung tissue mass is independent of position. However, in patients in the supine position, lung CT density increased and regional inflation decreased from ventral to dorsal, suggesting progressive deflation of gas-containing alveoli along the gravity gradient. A similar ventral-dorsal deflation pattern occurred within 10 min in patients in the prone position. We conclude that the lung in patients with ARF behaves like an elastic body with a diffusely increased mass; dependent lung regions are compressed by the pressure of overlying structures. Reversal of gravitational forces induced atelectasis of previously atelectic regions but did not change the overall efficiency of oxygen exchange (right-to-left intrapulmonary shunt [Q(sp)/Q(t)]).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-23
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1991


  • acute respiratory failure
  • body position
  • computer-assisted tomography
  • gas exchange
  • lung
  • measurement techniques
  • pulmonary edema
  • ventilation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Body position changes redistribute lung computed-tomographic density in patients with acute respiratory failure'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this