• Open Access

Plethysmographic Comparison of Breathing Pattern in Heaves (Recurrent Airway Obstruction) Versus Experimental Bronchoconstriction or Hyperpnea in Horses


Director, Lung Function Testing Laboratory, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, MA; e-mail: Andrew.hoffman@tufts.edu.


Background: Horses with recurrent airway obstruction (heaves) are described as exhibiting “increased abdominal effort,” but it is unknown whether this translates to an effective contribution to ventilation.

Hypothesis: We hypothesized that heaves is characterized by asynchrony between rib cage and abdominal motions, and that the abdominal component is the major contributor to ventilation.

Animals: The rib cage versus abdominal motion in naturally occurring heaves (n = 15) was compared to controls at rest (n = 7) and during hyperpnea because of lobeline treatment, and the effects of histamine-induced bronchoconstriction in controls (n = 10).

Methods: Flow patterns, phase angle (9) between the rib and abdominal compartments, abdominal (Vabd) contribution to tidal volume (VT), and lung mechanics were measured.

Results: Findings unique to the heaves group included the loss of biphasic expiratory flow, severely increased 9 with the abdomen consistently lagging behind the rib cage, and a reduced contribution of the abdomen to ventilation. A subgroup of heaves (n = 5) with abdominal paradox showed a significant (P < .05) reduction in tidal volume, and increased respiratory rate. Bronchodilation reduced 9 in heaves (P= .06), but 9 remained significantly higher after bronchodilation than found in controls.

Conclusions and Clinical Importance: We conclude that breathing pattern in horses with heaves is characterized by severe rib cage/abdominal asynchrony, with the rib cage motion in synchrony with flow, therefore dominating ventilation. In a subset of heaves, the abdominal compartment (diaphragm, abdominal muscles) was completely out of synchrony with flow (“abdominal paradox”) despite the clinical appearance of “increased abdominal effort.”