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The tracheal accordion and the position of the endotracheal tube

University of California San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States


The purpose of this review is to, first, determine the static factors that affect the length of the human trachea across different populations and, second, to investigate whether or not there are dynamic factors that cause the length of the human trachea to vary within the same individual. We also investigated whether these changes in tracheal length within the same individual are significant enough to increase the risk of endobronchial intubation or accidental extubation. A PubMed/MEDLINE and a Web of Science database English-language literature search was conducted in May 2016 with relevant keywords and MeSH terms when available. We found that gender, extremes of age, patient height, postsurgical changes and co-existing disease are static patient factors that affect the length of the human trachea. Dynamic clinical changes that occur under anaesthesia, including Trendelenburg position, head and neck flexion and extension, paralysis of the diaphragm and pneumoperitoneum, cause the trachea to act as an accordion, decreasing and increasing its length. The length of the human trachea in both awake and anaesthetised and paralysed patients is a critical consideration in preventing both endobronchial intubation and tracheal extubation. It is clear from the literature that tracheal length varies widely across populations and, additionally, with the dynamic clinical changes that occur under anaesthesia, the trachea acts as an accordion decreasing and increasing its length within the same individual. Knowledge of the magnitude of the change in tracheal dimensions in response to these factors is an important clinical consideration.

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