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NEJM

Neuromuscular blockers in early acute respiratory distress syndrome

BACKGROUND

In patients undergoing mechanical ventilation for the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), neuromuscular blocking agents may improve oxygenation and decrease ventilator-induced lung injury but may also cause muscle weakness. We evaluated clinical outcomes after 2 days of therapy with neuromuscular blocking agents in patients with early, severe ARDS.

METHODS

In this multicenter, double-blind trial, 340 patients presenting to the intensive care unit (ICU) with an onset of severe ARDS within the previous 48 hours were randomly assigned to receive, for 48 hours, either cisatracurium besylate (178 patients) or placebo (162 patients). Severe ARDS was defined as a ratio of the partial pressure of arterial oxygen (PaO2) to the fraction of inspired oxygen (FIO2) of less than 150, with a positive end-expiratory pressure of 5 cm or more of water and a tidal volume of 6 to 8 ml per kilogram of predicted body weight. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients who died either before hospital discharge or within 90 days after study enrollment (i.e., the 90-day in-hospital mortality rate), adjusted for predefined covariates and baseline differences between groups with the use of a Cox model.

RESULTS

The hazard ratio for death at 90 days in the cisatracurium group, as compared with the placebo group, was 0.68 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.48 to 0.98; P=0.04), after adjustment for both the baseline PaO2:FIO2 and plateau pressure and the Simplified Acute Physiology II score. The crude 90-day mortality was 31.6% (95% CI, 25.2 to 38.8) in the cisatracurium group and 40.7% (95% CI, 33.5 to 48.4) in the placebo group (P=0.08). Mortality at 28 days was 23.7% (95% CI, 18.1 to 30.5) with cisatracurium and 33.3% (95% CI, 26.5 to 40.9) with placebo (P=0.05). The rate of ICU-acquired paresis did not differ significantly between the two groups.

CONCLUSIONS

In patients with severe ARDS, early administration of a neuromuscular blocking agent improved the adjusted 90-day survival and increased the time off the ventilator without increasing muscle weakness.

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