Postoperative pulmonary complications are the most frequent and significant contributor to morbidity, mortality, and costs associated with hospitalization. Interestingly, despite the prevalence of these complications in cardiac surgical patients, recognition, diagnosis, and management of this problem vary widely. In addition, little information is available on the continuum between routine postoperative pulmonary dysfunction and postoperative pulmonary complications. The course of events from pulmonary dysfunction associated with surgery to discharge from the hospital in cardiac patients is largely unexplored. In the absence of evidence-based practice guidelines for the care of cardiac surgical patients with postoperative pulmonary dysfunction, an understanding of the pathophysiological basis of the development of postoperative pulmonary complications is fundamental to enable clinicians to assess the value of current management interventions. Previous research on postoperative pulmonary dysfunction in adults undergoing cardiac surgery is reviewed, with an emphasis on the pathogenesis of this problem, implications for clinical nursing practice, and possibilities for future research.

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