BACKGROUND: The effect of the type of trigger system on inspiratory effort has been studied in intubated patients, but no data are available in non-invasive mechanical ventilation where the "trigger variable" may be even more important since assisted modes of ventilation are often employed from the beginning of mechanical ventilation. METHODS: The effect of flow triggering (1 and 5 1/min) and pressure triggering (-1 cm H2O) on inspiratory effort during pressure support ventilation (PSV) and assisted controlled mode (A/C) delivered non-invasively with a full face mask were compared in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) recovering from an acute exacerbation. The patients were studied during randomised 15 minute runs at zero positive end expiratory pressure (ZEEP). The oesophageal pressure time product (PTPoes), dynamic intrinsic PEEP (PEEPi,dyn), fall in maximal airway pressure (delta Paw) during inspiration, and ventilatory variables were measured. RESULTS: Minute ventilation, respiratory pattern, dynamic lung compliance and resistances, and changes in end expiratory lung volume (delta EELV) were the same with the two triggering systems. The total PTPoes and its pre-triggering phase (PTP due to PEEPi and PTP due to valve opening) were significantly higher during both PSV and A/C with pressure triggering than with flow triggering at both levels of sensitivity. delta Paw was larger during pressure triggering, and PEEPi,dyn was significantly reduced during flow triggering in the A/C mode only. CONCLUSIONS: In patients with COPD flow triggering reduces the inspiratory effort during both PSV and A/C modes compared with pressure triggering. These findings are likely to be due to a reduction in PEEPi,dyn and in the time of valve opening with a flow trigger.
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