BACKGROUND: Respiratory complications are common after neonatal repair of oesophageal atresia and tracheo-oesophageal fistula. The prevalence of lung function abnormalities and the relation between gastrointestinal complications and lung function has not been studied in a large number of patients. METHODS: Lung volumes and flow-volume loops were measured in 155 patients without spinal curvature aged 6-37 years who had undergone surgery for oesophageal atresia and tracheo-oesophageal fistula. RESULTS: Sixty four of the 155 patients had evidence of mild lower airways disease, with values for FEV1 more than two standardised scores below the predicted value in 39 (25%) and above 2 standardised scores for the residual volume (RV)/total lung capacity (TLC) ratio in 64 (41%). Restrictive lung disease (TLC more than 2 standardised scores below predicted) was present in 28 (18%). Severe lung function abnormalities were present in under 10% of the 155. Half the subjects had some evidence of extra-thoracic tracheal obstruction, with a high ratio of expiratory to inspiratory flow for peak flow in 76 (50%) and at 50% of vital capacity in 59 (38%). Patients with radiological gastro-oesophageal reflux in early childhood had more airways obstruction and smaller lung volumes. Patients with current gastrointestinal symptoms were similar in their lung function to symptom free patients. CONCLUSIONS: Minor lung function abnormalities are common in patients after repair of oesophageal atresia. Early diagnosis and management of gastro-oesophageal reflux may help to minimise these lung function abnormalities.
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