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Crit Care Med. 1995 Sep;23(9):1485-96.

Survival in patients with severe adult respiratory distress syndrome treated with high-level positive end-expiratory pressure.

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Department of Surgery, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, USA.



To assess the mortality rate and complications in a population of surgical patients with severe adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) treated with positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) of > 15 cm H2O in an attempt to reduce intrapulmonary shunt to approximately 0.20 and reduce FIO2 to < 0.50.


Retrospective review of patients treated by a standardized ventilatory support protocol at the time of their illness.


A 24-bed surgical intensive care unit in a university medical center.


All patients admitted to the surgical intensive care unit during a 34-month period who met the criteria for severe ARDS (Pao2 of < or = 70 torr [< or = 9.3 kPa] on an FIO2 of > or = 0.50, diffuse interstitial and/or alveolar infiltrates on chest radiograph, decreased lung compliance, no evidence of congestive heart failure, and a likely predisposing etiology) were evaluated. Patients treated with PEEP of > 15 cm H2O were selected for this review.


Patients were treated by a protocol to achieve oxygenation end points, which consisted of maintaining arterial oxyhemoglobin saturation (as determined by pulse oximetry of > or = 0.92), while reducing FIO2 to < 0.50 and decreasing intrapulmonary shunt fraction to < or = 0.20 by adding PEEP. With the exception of patients with suspected intracranial hypertension related to closed-head injury, low-rate intermittent mandatory ventilation was the primary mode of ventilation. Pressure-support ventilation was added, when needed, to improve patient comfort, enhance spontaneous tidal volume, or improve CO2 excretion.


Eighty-six patients with severe ARDS were treated with a PEEP of > 15 cm H2O. Nineteen of these patients died early of severe closed-head injury or massive uncontrollable hemorrhage and were excluded from the evaluation. The remaining 67 patients had a mean Lung Injury Score of 3.3 during their treatment with high PEEP. Twenty (30%) of 67 patients died. Eight of the deaths occurred after decrease of ventilatory support and with acceptable blood gases. The other 12 patients who died had continued oxygenation deficits and received increased levels of ventilatory support at the time of death. Twenty-six (39%) of 67 patients had radiographic manifestations of barotrauma (pneumothorax, subcutaneous emphysema, etc.) related to their primary injuries or to complications related to central venous catheter placement. Seven (17%) of 41 patients developed clinical or radiographic signs of barotrauma while receiving high-level PEEP. The hemodynamic effects of increased airway pressure were managed with fluids and inotropic agents, when necessary, and did not limit the application of PEEP to reach the defined end point of treatment.


This subset of patients with severe ARDS treated with high-level PEEP had a mortality rate lower than those rates previously reported by other researchers using more conventional ventilatory support and resuscitation techniques. FIO2 may be significantly reduced and PaO2 may be maintained at acceptable values by decreasing intrapulmonary shunt fraction using high-level PEEP.

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