Key messages

• Pressure-volume curves describe the stiffness of the respiratory system.

• It is important to titrate external positive end-expiratory pressure to prevent airway closure and to avoid overdistension in patients with stiff lungs.

• Flow-volume curves describe the flow limitation of the respiratory system.

• Bronchodilator therapy can be titrated to increase airflow for any given driving pressure across the lungs.

• Approximations to pressure-volume curves can be made during tidal ventilation without disconnecting the patient from the ventilator.

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