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End-tidal carbon dioxide concentrations were measured prospectively in 12 cardiac arrest patients undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in an accident and emergency department. The end-tidal carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration decreased from a mean (+/- SD) of 4.55 +/- 0.88% 1 min after chest compression and ventilation was established, to values ranging from 2.29 +/- 0.84% at 2 min to 1.56 +/- 0.66% following 8 min of CPR. Spontaneous circulation was restored in five patients. This was accompanied by a rapid rise in end-tidal CO2 which peaked at 2 min (3.7 +/- 1.08%). Changes in end-tidal CO2 values were often the first indication of return of spontaneous cardiac output. There was a significant difference in the end-tidal CO2 in patients undergoing CPR before return of spontaneous circulation (2.63 +/- 0.32%) and patients who failed to develop spontaneous output (1.64 +/- 0.89%) (p < 0.001). We conclude that measurement of end-tidal CO2 concentration provides a simple and non-invasive method of measuring blood flow during CPR and can indicate return of spontaneous circulation.