Ventilatory dysfunction in motor neuron disease: when and how to act?.

J Afonso Rocha, M J Miranda


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a devastating progressive neurodegenerative disorder, involving motor neurons in the cerebral cortex, brainstem and spinal cord. Mean duration of survival from the time of diagnosis is around 15 months, being pulmonary complications and respiratory failure responsible for more than 85% of deaths. Albeit the inevitability of respiratory failure and short-term death, standardized intervention protocols have been shown to significantly delay the need for invasive ventilatory support, thus prolonging survival and enhancing quality of life. The authors present an intervention protocol based on clinical progression and respiratory parameters. Decisions regarding initiation of non-invasive positive pressure ventilation (NIPPV) and mechanically assisted coughing, depend on development of symptoms of hypoventilation and on objective deterioration of respiratory parameters especially in what concerns bulbar muscle function. These include maximum inspiratory capacity (MIC), difference between MIC and vital capacity (MIC-VC), and assisted peak cough flow (PCF). These standardized protocols along with patient and caregivers education, allow for improved quality of life, prolonged survival and delay or eventually prevent the need for tracheotomy and invasive ventilatory support. Supplemental oxygen should be avoided in these patients, since it precludes use of oxymetry as feedback for titrating NIPPV and MAC, and is associated with decreased ventilatory drive and aggravated hypercapnia.

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