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A trial of nebulised heparin to limit lung injury following cardiac surgery

Barwon Hospital, Geelong, Australia.


Cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass triggers an acute inflammatory response in the lungs. This response gives rise to fibrin deposition in the microvasculature and alveoli of the lungs. Fibrin deposition in the microvasculature increases alveolar dead space, while fibrin deposition in alveoli causes shunting. We investigated whether prophylactic nebulised heparin could limit this form of lung injury. We undertook a single-centre double-blind randomised trial. Forty patients undergoing elective cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass were randomised to prophylactic nebulised heparin (50,000 U) or placebo. The primary endpoint was the change in arterial oxygen levels over the operative period. Secondary endpoints included end-tidal CO2, the alveolar dead space fraction and bleeding complications. We found nebulised heparin did not improve arterial oxygen levels. Nebulised heparin was, however, associated with a lower alveolar dead space fraction (P <0.05) and lower tidal volumes at the end of surgery (P <0.01). Nebulised heparin was not associated with bleeding complications. In conclusion, prophylactic nebulised heparin did not improve oxygenation, but was associated with evidence of better alveolar perfusion and CO2 elimination at the end of surgery.

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