COVID-19-related organ dysfunction and management strategies on the intensive care unit: a narrative review

Br J Anaesth. 2020 Dec;125(6):912-925. doi: 10.1016/j.bja.2020.08.050. Epub 2020 Sep 8.


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in a significant surge of critically ill patients and an unprecedented demand on intensive care services. The rapidly evolving understanding of pathogenesis, limited disease specific evidence, and demand-resource imbalances have posed significant challenges for intensive care clinicians. COVID-19 is a complex multisystem inflammatory vasculopathy with a significant mortality implication for those admitted to intensive care. Institutional strategic preparation and meticulous intensive care support are essential to maximising outcomes during the pandemic. The significant mortality variation observed between institutions and internationally, despite a single aetiology and uniform presentation, highlights the potential influence of management strategies on outcome. Given that optimal organ support and adjunctive therapies for COVID-19 have not yet been well defined by trial-based outcomes, strategies are predicated on existing literature and experiential learning. This review outlines the relevant pathophysiology and management strategies for critically ill patients with COVID-19, and shares some of the collective learning accumulated in a high volume severe respiratory failure centre in London.

Keywords: ARDS; COVID-19; ECMO; MODS; SARS-CoV-2; respiratory failure; ventilation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications*
  • Coronavirus Infections / therapy*
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Disease Management*
  • Humans
  • Multiple Organ Failure / etiology*
  • Multiple Organ Failure / therapy*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / therapy*