Postoperative patients have higher incidences of respiratory complications. Patients undergoing abdominal or thoracic surgical procedures are at greater risk of having such complications. Incentive spirometry is an inhalation-based prophylactic technique that encourages patients to mimic a natural deep sigh to periodically increase lung volume. As this technique is the prophylactic method of choice for many hospitals, several studies have tested its efficacy.


Five articles, including 4 systematic reviews and 1 clinical practice guideline, are analyzed and summarized. Each article was reviewed by a multidisciplinary team of health care providers and is discussed herein. A clinical recommendation for practice change is provided on the basis of the results.


Incentive spirometry is only as effective as cough/deep-breathing regimens and other means of postoperative pulmonary prophylaxis. No single prophylactic technique clearly outperforms all others in preventing pulmonary complications. Future research is needed to determine the best method to prevent postoperative pulmonary complications.

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