Introduction: Randomized trials investigating neuromuscular blocking agents in adult acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) have been inconclusive about effects on mortality, which is very high in this population. Uncertainty also exists about the associated risk of ICU-acquired weakness.
Methods: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis. We searched the Cochrane (Central) database, MEDLINE, EMBASE, ACP Journal Club, and clinical trial registries for randomized trials investigating survival effects of neuromuscular blocking agents in adults with ARDS. Two independent reviewers abstracted data and assessed methodologic quality. Primary study investigators provided additional unpublished data.
Results: Three trials (431 patients; 20 centers; all from the same research group in France) met inclusion criteria for this review. All trials assessed 48-hour infusions of cisatracurium besylate. Short-term infusion of cisatracurium besylate was associated with lower hospital mortality (RR, 0.72; 95% CI, 0.58 to 0.91; P=0.005; I2=0). This finding was robust on sensitivity analyses. Neuromuscular blockade was also associated with lower risk of barotrauma (RR, 0.43; 95% CI, 0.20 to 0.90; P=0.02; I2=0), but had no effect on the duration of mechanical ventilation among survivors (MD, 0.25 days; 95% CI, 5.48 to 5.99; P=0.93; I2=49%), or the risk of ICU-acquired weakness (RR, 1.08; 95% CI, 0.83 to 1.41; P=0.57; I2=0). Primary studies lacked protracted measurements of weakness.
Conclusions: Short-term infusion of cisatracurium besylate reduces hospital mortality and barotrauma and does not appear to increase ICU-acquired weakness for critically ill adults with ARDS.