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Multiple breath washout (MBW) testing using sulfur hexafluoride: reference values and influence of anthropometric parameters


Background Multiple breath washout (MBW) using sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) has the potential to reveal ventilation heterogeneity which is frequent in patients with obstructive lung disease and associated small airway dysfunction. However, reference data are scarce for this technique and mostly restricted to younger cohorts. We therefore set out to evaluate the influence of anthropometric parameters on SF6-MBW reference values in pulmonary healthy adults.

Methods We evaluated cross-sectional data from 100 pulmonary healthy never-smokers and smokers (mean 51 (SD 20), range 20–88 years). Lung clearance index (LCI), acinar (Sacin) and conductive (Scond) ventilation heterogeneity were derived from triplicate SF6-MBW measurements. Global ventilation heterogeneity was calculated for the 2.5% (LCI2.5) and 5% (LCI5) stopping points. Upper limit of normal (ULN) was defined as the 95th percentile.

Results Age was the only meaningful parameter influencing SF6-MBW parameters, explaining 47% (CI 33% to 59%) of the variance in LCI, 32% (CI 18% to 47%) in Sacin and 10% (CI 2% to 22%) in Scond. Mean LCI increases from 6.3 (ULN 7.4) to 8.8 (ULN 9.9) in subjects between 20 and 90 years. Smoking accounted for 2% (CI 0% to 8%) of the variability in LCI, 4% (CI 0% to 13%) in Sacin and 3% (CI 0% to 13%) in Scond.

Conclusion SF6-MBW outcome parameters showed an age-dependent increase from early adulthood to old age. The effect was most pronounced for global and acinar ventilation heterogeneity and smaller for conductive ventilation heterogeneity. No influence of height, weight and sex was seen. Reference values can now be provided for all important SF6-MBW outcome parameters over the whole age range.

Trial registration number NCT04099225.

  • respiratory measurement

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