Incidence and impact of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies in clinical trials of severe traumatic brain injury: A systematic review

Clin Trials. 2018 Aug;15(4):398-412. doi: 10.1177/1740774518771233. Epub 2018 Jun 4.

Abstract

Background Most deaths following severe traumatic brain injury follow decisions to withdraw life-sustaining therapies. However, the incidence of the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies and its potential impact on research data interpretation have been poorly characterized. The aim of this systematic review was to assess the reporting and the impact of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies in randomized clinical trials of patients with severe traumatic brain injury. Methods We searched Medline, Embase, Cochrane Central, BIOSIS, and CINAHL databases and references of included trials. All randomized controlled trials published between January 2002 and August 2015 in the six highest impact journals in general medicine, critical care medicine, and neurocritical care (total of 18 journals) were considered for eligibility. Randomized controlled trials were included if they enrolled adult patients with severe traumatic brain injury (Glasgow Coma Scale ≤ 8) and reported data on mortality. Our primary objective was to assess the proportion of trials reporting the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies in a publication. Our secondary objectives were to describe the overall mortality rate, the proportion of deaths following the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies, and to assess the impact of the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies on trial results. Results From 5987 citations retrieved, we included 41 randomized trials (n = 16,364, ranging from 11 to 10,008 patients). Overall mortality was 23% (range = 3%-57%). Withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies was reported in 20% of trials (8/41, 932 patients in trials) and the crude number of deaths due to the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies was reported in 17% of trials (7/41, 884 patients in trials). In these trials, 63% of deaths were associated with the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies (105/168). An analysis carried out by imputing a 4% differential rate in instances of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies between study groups yielded different results and conclusions in one third of the trials. Conclusion Data on the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies are incompletely reported in randomized controlled trials of patients with severe traumatic brain injury. Given the high proportion of deaths due to the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies in severe traumatic brain injury patients, and the potential of this medical decision to influence the results of clinical trials, instances of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies should be systematically reported in clinical trials in this group of patients.

Keywords: Brain injury; clinical trial; end-of-life; life-sustaining therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / mortality*
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / therapy
  • Data Accuracy
  • Disclosure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Withholding Treatment / statistics & numerical data*

Grant support