A new single breath test has been developed that measures pulmonary blood flow (Qc) and pulmonary tissue volume by using the fact that Qc is proportional to the relationship between the absorption rate of acetylene (C2H2) from the alveolar gas and the rate of change of lung volume during constant expiratory flow. To make these measurements a bag in bottle system with a rolling seal spirometer, a mass spectrometer, and a minicomputer with analogue to digital conversion have been used. Qc was compared with cardiac output measured by the thermodilution technique in 20 patients with cardiac disease; some also had mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The mean (SD) resting Qc for the group was 5.27 (1.22) l/min and the cardiac output measured by thermodilution was 5.30 (1.31) l/min. The mean difference between the two estimations of cardiac output was 0.03 l and the standard deviation of this difference was 0.76 l. The Qc technique was not successful in patients with an FEV1/FVC less than 60%, but seemed to be accurate in those with higher FEV1/FVC values. Correction of Qc for the effect of venous admixture in 14 patients resulted in an average 19% overestimation of cardiac output (6.01 (2.52) l/min v 5.05 (1.64) l/min). It is concluded that cardiac output can be accurately measured in patients with cardiac or mild pulmonary disease. No correction for venous admixture due to ventilation-perfusion mismatch was necessary in these patients, presumably because the large breath used by the technique overcomes most mild ventilation-perfusion maldistribution. These findings, in addition to the non-invasive nature of the technique, suggest potential value for the measurement of cardiac output in various clinical conditions.
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