The optimum level of positive end expiratory pressure (PEEP) was determined in 16 infants with respiratory distress syndrome (median gestational age 29 weeks, median postnatal age 1 day) and in 16 infants with chronic respiratory distress (median gestational age 25 weeks, median postnatal age 15 days). All infants were studied at a PEEP sequence of 3, 0, 3, 6, and 3 cm H2O, all other ventilator parameters being kept constant. Each PEEP level was maintained for 20 minutes and at the end of each period arterial blood gas was checked. During acute respiratory distress syndrome there were no significant changes in oxygenation but arterial carbon dioxide tension (PaCO2) significantly decreased from a mean of 4.93 kPa at 3 cm H2O to 4.40 kPa at 0 cm H2O and increased to a mean of 5.87 kPa at 6 cm H2O. In the infants with chronic respiratory distress, oxygenation fell from a mean of 8.66 kPa at 3 cm H2O to 6.40 kPa at 0 cm H2O and improved at 6 cm H2O to a mean of 10.50 kPa. There were no significant changes in PaCO2. We conclude that addition of PEEP, up to 6 cm H2O, may be useful even after the first week of life. High levels of PEEP, however, have previously been reported, in certain infants, to result in circulatory disturbance. It is therefore important to assess the use of 6 cm H2O PEEP in a controlled study of longer term clinical outcome.
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