Determinants of the esophageal-pleural pressure relationship in humans

Iacopo Pasticci, Paolo Cadringher, Lorenzo Giosa, Michele Umbrello, Paolo Formenti, Matteo M. Macri, Mattia Busana, Matteo Bonifazi, Federica Romitti, Francesco Vassalli, Massimo Cressoni, Michael Quintel, Davide Chiumello, Luciano Gattinoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Esophageal pressure has been suggested as adequate surrogate of the pleural pressure. We investigate after lung surgery the determinants of the esophageal and intrathoracic pressures and their differences. The esophageal pressure (through esophageal balloon) and the intrathoracic/pleural pressure (through the chest tube on the surgery side) were measured after surgery in 28 patients immediately after lobectomy or wedge resection. Measurements were made in the nondependent lateral position (without or with ventilation of the operated lung) and in the supine position. In the lateral position with the nondependent lung, collapsed or ventilated, the differences between esophageal and pleural pressure amounted to 4.4 ± 1.6 and 5.1 ± 1.7 cmH2O. In the supine position, the difference amounted to 7.3 ± 2.8 cmH2O. In the supine position, the estimated compressive forces on the mediastinum were 10.5 ± 3.1 cmH2O and on the iso-gravitational pleural plane 3.2 ± 1.8 cmH2O. A simple model describing the roles of chest, lung, and pneumothorax volume matching on the pleural pressure genesis was developed; modeled pleural pressure = 1.0057 × measured pleural pressure + 0.6592 (r2 = 0.8). Whatever the position and the ventilator settings, the esophageal pressure changed in a 1:1 ratio with the changes in pleural pressure. Consequently, chest wall elastance (Ecw) measured by intrathoracic (Ecw = ΔPpl/tidal volume) or esophageal pressure (Ecw = ΔPes/tidal volume) was identical in all the positions we tested. We conclude that esophageal and pleural pressures may be largely different depending on body position (gravitational forces) and lung-chest wall volume matching. Their changes, however, are identical.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Esophageal and pleural pressure changes occur at a 1:1 ratio, fully justifying the use of esophageal pressure to compute the chest wall elastance and the changes in pleural pressure and in lung stress. The absolute value of esophageal and pleural pressures may be largely different, depending on the body position (gravitational forces) and the lung-chest wall volume matching. Therefore, the absolute value of esophageal pressure should not be used as a surrogate of pleural pressure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-86
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2020


  • acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • esophageal pressure
  • lung volume
  • mechanical ventilation
  • pleural pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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