A breath of fresh air
UTS Master of Physiotherapy (Research) student Elise Crothers hopes to improve health outcomes for patients after lung transplants by using ultrasound to assess diaphragm dysfunction.
Master of Physiotherapy (Research) student Elise Crothers is studying the use of ultrasound to help report the rate of diaphragm dysfunction after a lung transplant.
She’s created a hypothetical young patient with cystic fibrosis to show what can happen after waiting 3 years for a lung transplant.
“Just say the transplant went well, but in the following days and weeks, we start to realise that unfortunately she’s still finding it very difficult to breathe. The problem is that during the transplant, the diaphragm muscle, or the nerves which supply the diaphragm, can be damaged. She’d be so disappointed.”
The human body is amazing. All our internal organs and body systems work together to keep us alive and moving. We never have to think about all the steps involved for simple tasks like walking, reading, sleeping, or even just breathing. But if one part of the process is affected, it can create a chain reaction and suddenly, these tasks aren’t so simple anymore.
The functional ability of your diaphragm probably isn’t an issue that you think about. But for some people, diaphragm dysfunction is a debilitating impairment.
It’s estimated that more than 1 in 3 patients can end up with diaphragm weakness after their lung transplant surgery.
Previous research has shown that patients with diaphragm weakness spend more hours on breathing support, days in intensive care, and time in hospital. This reduces the health care benefits of having a transplant and uses health care resources.
We don’t know how many patients are affected by this because the most commonly used investigative tools are invasive, time consuming, uncomfortable for patients, and radiative.
But the technology to assess diaphragm function more efficiently already exists: ultrasound.
We’ve been using ultrasound for years. We know it’s perfectly safe, accurate, reliable, and can be done quickly at the bedside. Ultrasound can assess an unborn baby from inside its mother’s womb, so there’s plenty it can show us about our other internal organs and tissues.
Elise wants to improve the assessment, treatment quality and process of diaphragm dysfunction after a lung transplant.
First, she wants to find out exactly how many patients have diaphragm weakness after transplant. Then, she’ll track these patients to show how diaphragm weakness affects their outcomes.
When ultrasound is used to provide an early and accurate diagnosis of diaphragm weakness, there are more opportunities for early intervention, like physiotherapy.
These rehabilitative interventions could hugely improve outcomes for patients, which will improve quality of life after lung transplants and reduce healthcare costs.