An Observational Study of the Efficacy of Cisatracurium Compared with Vecuronium in Patients with or at Risk for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2018 Apr 1;197(7):897-904. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201706-1132OC.


Rationale: The neuromuscular blocking agent cisatracurium may improve mortality for patients with moderate-to-severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Other neuromuscular blocking agents, such as vecuronium, are commonly used and have different mechanisms of action, side effects, cost, and availability in the setting of drug shortages.

Objectives: To determine whether cisatracurium is associated with improved outcomes when compared with vecuronium in patients at risk for and with ARDS.

Methods: Using a nationally representative database, patients who were admitted to the ICU with a diagnosis of ARDS or an ARDS risk factor, received mechanical ventilation, and were treated with a continuous infusion of neuromuscular blocking agent for at least 2 days within 2 days of hospital admission were included. Patients were stratified into two groups: those who received cisatracurium or vecuronium. Propensity matching was used to balance both patient- and hospital-specific factors. Outcomes included hospital mortality, duration of mechanical ventilation, ICU and hospital duration, and discharge location.

Measurements and main results: Propensity matching successfully balanced all covariates for 3,802 patients (1,901 per group). There was no significant difference in mortality (odds ratio, 0.932; P = 0.40) or hospital days (-0.66 d; P = 0.411) between groups. However, patients treated with cisatracurium had fewer ventilator days (-1.01 d; P = 0.005) and ICU days (-0.98 d; P = 0.028) but were equally likely to be discharged home (odds ratio, 1.19; P = 0.056).

Conclusions: When compared with vecuronium, cisatracurium was not associated with a difference in mortality but was associated with improvements in other clinically important outcomes. These data suggest that cisatracurium may be the preferred neuromuscular blocking agent for patients at risk for and with ARDS.

Keywords: acute respiratory distress syndrome; mechanical ventilators; neuromuscular blockade; patient outcome assessment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Atracurium / analogs & derivatives*
  • Atracurium / therapeutic use
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuromuscular Blocking Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Risk
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vecuronium Bromide / therapeutic use*


  • Neuromuscular Blocking Agents
  • Atracurium
  • Vecuronium Bromide
  • cisatracurium