Palliative use of noninvasive ventilation: navigating murky waters

J Palliat Med. 2014 Jun;17(6):657-61. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2014.0010. Epub 2014 May 13.


Background: The use of noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NPPV) as a palliative treatment for respiratory failure and dyspnea has become increasingly common. NPPV has a well-established, evidence-based role in the management of respiratory failure due to acute exacerbations of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, both for patients with and without restrictions on endotracheal intubation. There are emerging uses of NPPV in patients clearly nearing the end-of-life, but the evidence to support these applications is limited. Alongside these emerging applications of NPPV are new ethical dilemmas that should be considered in medical decision-making regarding these therapies.

Discussion: Herein, we describe the use of NPPV in four patients with advanced disease and preexisting treatment-limiting directives. We discuss some of the ethical dilemmas and unintended consequences that may accompany the use of NPPV in such circumstances, and we review the benefits and burdens of palliative NPPV.

Conclusion: Finally, we conclude with a summary of principles that can be used as a guide to decision making regarding palliative NPPV.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Bronchogenic / complications
  • Carcinoma, Bronchogenic / therapy
  • Decision Making / ethics
  • Disease Progression
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Dyspnea / therapy*
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / complications
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / complications
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Noninvasive Ventilation / methods*
  • Palliative Care / methods
  • Palliative Care / standards*
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration / methods*
  • Prognosis
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / therapy
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy*
  • Resuscitation Orders
  • Terminally Ill