Dept of Scienze Cliniche e Biologiche, Universita' degli Studi dell'Insubria, Varese, Italy.
In the last few years prone positioning has been used increasingly in the treatment of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and this manoeuvre is now considered a simple and safe method to improve oxygenation. However, the physiological mechanisms causing respiratory function improvement as well as the real clinical benefit are not yet fully understood. The aim of this review is to discuss the physiological and clinical effects of prone positioning in patients with ARDS. The main physiological aims of prone positioning are: 1) to improve oxygenation; 2) to improve respiratory mechanics; 3) to homogenise the pleural pressure gradient, the alveolar inflation and the ventilation distribution; 4) to increase lung volume and reduce the amount of atelectatic regions; 5) to facilitate the drainage of secretions; and 6) to reduce ventilator-associated lung injury. According to the available data, the authors conclude that: 1) oxygenation improves in approximately 70-80% of patients with early acute respiratory distress syndrome; 2) the beneficial effects of oxygenation reduce after 1 week of mechanical ventilation; 3) the aetiology of acute respiratory distress syndrome may markedly affect the response to prone positioning; 4) extreme care is necessary when the manoeuvre is performed; 5) pressure sores are frequent and related to the number of pronations; 6) the supports used to prone and during positioning are different and nonstandardised among centres; and 7) intensive care unit and hospital stay and mortality still remain high despite prone positioning.