New Procedures In ICU Reduce Injuries to Lungs

For 200,000 people a year, the breakdown of cell membranes in the lungs causes damage that leads to many deaths and leaves some survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder and muscular dystrophy.
For 200,000 people a year, the breakdown of cell membranes in the lungs causes damage that leads to many deaths and leaves some survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder and muscular dystrophy. (By Won Yeon Lee)

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

In the animal lung images above, the red areas indicate dead cells, the black areas are healthy cells and the fluorescent green areas show injured cells that have healed. By studying such images and comparing them with human tissue samples, Mayo Clinic critical care specialist Ognjen Gajic and his lab mates realized that the way hospitals were using ventilators and giving blood transfusions in intensive care units was dangerous.

Both procedures can cause acute lung injury -- "the worst disease you can get in the ICU," says Gajic. Around 200,000 people a year nationwide suffer from the breakdown of cell membranes, causing plasma to flood their airways. About half die; the condition leaves some survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder and muscular dystrophy.

To curb the tearing of lung cells, Mayo staff lowered ventilator settings to pump less air into lungs and reduced the time patients spent on the breathing machines. The clinic also took steps to limit unnecessary transfusions. "You can think about a blood transfusion as a cell transplant. It can cause an immune reaction that causes tissue damage," says Gajic. The new protocols have cut ICU death rates by a third and decreased ICU stays by more than three days.

-- Kathleen Hom


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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