Pressure-Controlled vs Volume-Controlled Ventilation in Acute Respiratory Failure: A Physiology-Based Narrative and Systematic Review

Chest. 2015 Aug;148(2):340-355. doi: 10.1378/chest.14-3169.


Background: Mechanical ventilation is a cornerstone in the management of acute respiratory failure. Both volume-targeted and pressure-targeted ventilations are used, the latter modes being increasingly used. We provide a narrative review of the physiologic principles of these two types of breath delivery, performed a literature search, and analyzed published comparisons between modes.

Methods: We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to determine whether pressure control-continuous mandatory ventilation (PC-CMV) or pressure control-inverse ratio ventilation (PC-IRV) has demonstrated advantages over volume control-continuous mandatory ventilation (VC-CMV). The Cochrane tool for risk of bias was used for methodologic quality. We also introduced physiologic criteria as quality indicators for selecting the studies. Outcomes included compliance, gas exchange, hemodynamics, work of breathing, and clinical outcomes. Analyses were completed with RevMan5 using random effects models.

Results: Thirty-four studies met inclusion criteria, many being at high risk of bias. Comparisons of PC-CMV/PC-IRV and VC-CMV did not show any difference for compliance or gas exchange, even when looking at PC-IRV. Calculating the oxygenation index suggested a poorer effect for PC-IRV. There was no difference between modes in terms of hemodynamics, work of breathing, or clinical outcomes.

Conclusions: The two modes have different working principles but clinical available data do not suggest any difference in the outcomes. We included all identified trials, enhancing generalizability, and attempted to include only sufficient quality physiologic studies. However, included trials were small and varied considerably in quality. These data should help to open the choice of ventilation of patients with acute respiratory failure.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Humans
  • Respiration, Artificial / methods*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / therapy*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy*