The thoracic cage appears to be large during attacks of asthma. Lung volume measurements by body plethysmography and helium dilution have suggested that total lung capacity may be increased during an acute attack of asthma, but doubt has been cast on the accuracy of these measurements in the presence of airflow obstruction. The change in total lung capacity has therefore been investigated during and after an acute attack of severe asthma in 32 patients by a radiographic technique. There was a small decrease (0.29 l) in mean total lung capacity between admission and follow up, though a quarter of the subjects showed a slight increase. There was no correlation between change in total lung capacity and change in expiratory flow rates, arterial carbon dioxide tension on admission, body mass index, and length of stay in hospital. Our findings agree with previous reports of a decrease in total lung capacity with improving airway obstruction, but the changes were small and inconsistent.
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