Background: Avoiding intubation is a major goal in the management of respiratory failure, particularly in immunosuppressed patients. Nevertheless, there are only limited data on the efficacy of noninvasive ventilation in these high-risk patients.
Methods: We conducted a prospective, randomized trial of intermittent noninvasive ventilation, as compared with standard treatment with supplemental oxygen and no ventilatory support, in 52 immunosuppressed patients with pulmonary infiltrates, fever, and an early stage of hypoxemic acute respiratory failure. Periods of noninvasive ventilation delivered through a face mask were alternated every three hours with periods of spontaneous breathing with supplemental oxygen. The ventilation periods lasted at least 45 minutes. Decisions to intubate were made according to standard, predetermined criteria.
Results: The base-line characteristics of the two groups were similar; each group of 26 patients included 15 patients with hematologic cancer and neutropenia. Fewer patients in the noninvasive-ventilation group than in the standard-treatment group required endotracheal intubation (12 vs. 20, P=0.03), had serious complications (13 vs. 21, P=0.02), died in the intensive care unit (10 vs. 18, P=0.03), or died in the hospital (13 vs. 21, P=0.02).
Conclusions: In selected immunosuppressed patients with pneumonitis and acute respiratory failure, early initiation of noninvasive ventilation is associated with significant reductions in the rates of endotracheal intubation and serious complications and an improved likelihood of survival to hospital discharge.