Iron lung versus mask ventilation in acute exacerbation of COPD: a randomised crossover study

Intensive Care Med. 2009 Apr;35(4):648-55. doi: 10.1007/s00134-008-1352-9. Epub 2008 Nov 20.


Objective: To compare iron lung (ILV) versus mask ventilation (NPPV) in the treatment of COPD patients with acute on chronic respiratory failure (ACRF).

Design: Randomised multicentre study.

Setting: Respiratory intermediate intensive care units very skilled in ILV.

Patients and methods: A total of 141 patients met the inclusion criteria and were assigned: 70 to ILV and 71 to NPPV. To establish the failure of the technique employed as first line major and minor criteria for endotracheal intubation (EI) were used. With major criteria EI was promptly established. With at least two minor criteria patients were shifted from one technique to the other.

Results: On admission, PaO(2)/FiO(2), 198 (70) and 187 (64), PaCO(2), 90.5 (14.1) and 88.7 (13.5) mmHg, and pH 7.25 (0.04) and 7.25 (0.05), were similar for ILV and NPPV groups. When used as first line, the success of ILV (87%) was significantly greater (P = 0.01) than NPPV (68%), due to the number of patients that met minor criteria for EI; after the shift of the techniques; however, the need of EI and hospital mortality was similar in both groups. The total rate of success using both techniques increased from 77.3 to 87.9% (P = 0.028).

Conclusions: The sequential use of NPPV and ILV avoided EI in a large percentage of COPD patients with ACRF; ILV was more effective than NPPV on the basis of minor criteria for EI but after the crossover the need of EI on the basis of major criteria and mortality was similar in both groups of patients.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhalation
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Intermediate Care Facilities
  • Male
  • Masks*
  • Oxygen / therapeutic use*
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration / instrumentation*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / therapy*
  • Respiration, Artificial / instrumentation*


  • Oxygen