Early versus late tracheostomy for critically ill patients

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Mar 14:(3):CD007271. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007271.pub2.


Background: Long-term mechanical ventilation is the most common situation where tracheostomy is indicated for patients in intensive care units (ICU). 'Early' and 'late' tracheostomies are two categories of the timing of tracheostomy. The evidence on the advantages attributed to early over late tracheostomy is somewhat conflicting but includes shorter hospital stays and lower mortality rates.

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of early (≤ 10 days after intubation) versus late tracheostomy (> 10 days after intubation) in critically ill adult patients predicted to be on prolonged mechanical ventilation and with different clinical conditions.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2010, Issue 12); MEDLINE (via PubMed) (1966 to December 2010); EMBASE (via Ovid) (from 1974 to December 2010); LILACS (1986 to December 2010); PEDro (Physiotherapy Evidence Database) at www.pedro.fhs.usyd.edu.au (1999 to December 2010) and CINAHL (1982 to December 2010).

Selection criteria: We included all randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials which compared early tracheostomy (two to10 days after intubation) against late tracheostomy (> 10 days after intubation) for critically ill adult patients expected to be on prolonged mechanical ventilation. There was no language restriction.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors extracted data and conducted a quality assessment. Meta-analyses using the random-effects model were conducted for mortality and pneumonia.

Main results: We included four studies, with a high risk of bias, in which a total of 673 patients were randomized to either early or late tracheostomy. We could not pool data in a meta-analysis because of clinical, methodological and statistical heterogeneity between the included studies. There is no strong evidence for real differences between early and late tracheostomy in the primary outcome of mortality. In one study a statistically significant result favouring early tracheostomy was observed in the outcome measuring time spent on ventilatory support (mean difference (MD) -9.80 days, 95% CI -11.48 to -8.12, P < 0.001).

Authors' conclusions: Updated evidence is of low quality, and potential differences between early and late tracheostomy need to be better investigated by means of randomized controlled trials. At present there is no specific information about any subgroup or individual characteristics potentially associated with better outcomes with either early or late tracheostomy.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Critical Illness / mortality
  • Critical Illness / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Pneumonia / mortality
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Time Factors
  • Tracheostomy / adverse effects
  • Tracheostomy / methods*
  • Tracheostomy / mortality