We describe a new technique for recovering continuous distributions of ventilation (V) as a function of tidal ventilation/volume ratio (V/V0) from the nitrogen washout. The analysis yields a continuous distribution of V as a function of V/V0 represented as fractional ventilations of 50 compartments plus dead space. The procedure was verified by recovering known distributions from data to which noise had been added. Using an apparatus to control the subject's tidal volume and FRC, mixed expired N2 data gave the following results: a) the distributions of young, normal subjects were narrow and unimodal with a mean ln standard deviation of 0.56 plus or minus 0.13; b) those of subjects over age 40 were broader (ln SD 0.86 plus or minus 0.19) with more poorly ventilated units; c) patients with pulmonary disease of all descriptions showed enlarged dead space; d) patients with cystic fibrosis showed multimodal distributions with the bulk of the ventilation going to overventilated units; and e) patients with obstructive lung diseases fell into several classes, three of which are illustrated. These results suggest that our approach is well suited for clinical investigation.
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