Background: Weaning patients from mechanical ventilation is an important problem in intensive care units. Weaning is usually conducted in an empirical manner, and a standardized approach has not been developed.
Methods: We carried out a prospective, randomized, multicenter study involving 546 patients who had received mechanical ventilation for a mean (+/- SD) of 7.5 +/- 6.1 days and who were considered by their physicians to be ready for weaning. One hundred thirty patients had respiratory distress during a two-hour trial of spontaneous breathing. These patients were randomly assigned to undergo one of four weaning techniques: intermittent mandatory ventilation, in which the ventilator rate was initially set at a mean (+/- SD) of 10.0 +/- 2.2 breaths per minute and then decreased, if possible, at least twice a day, usually by 2 to 4 breaths per minute (29 patients); pressure-support ventilation, in which pressure support was initially set at 18.0 +/- 6.1 cm of water and then reduced, if possible, by 2 to 4 cm of water at least twice a day (37 patients); intermittent trials of spontaneous breathing, conducted two or more times a day if possible (33 patients); or a once-daily trail of spontaneous breathing (31 patients). Standardized protocols were followed for each technique.
Results: The median duration of weaning was 5 days for intermittent mandatory ventilation (first quartile, 3 days; third quartile, 11 days), 4 days for pressure-support ventilation (2 and 12 days, respectively), 3 days for intermittent (multiple) trials of spontaneous breathing (2 and 6 days, respectively), and 3 days for a once-daily trial of spontaneous breathing (1 and 6 days, respectively). After adjustment for other covariates, the rate of successful weaning was higher with a once-daily trial of spontaneous breathing than with intermittent mandatory ventilation (rate ratio, 2.83; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.36 to 5.89; P < 0.006) or pressure-support ventilation (rate ratio, 2.05; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.04 to 4.04; P < 0.04). There was no significant difference in the rate of success between once-daily trials and multiple trials of spontaneous breathing.
Conclusions: A once-daily trial of spontaneous breathing led to extubation about three times more quickly than intermittent mandatory ventilation and about twice as quickly as pressure-support ventilation. Multiple daily trials of spontaneous breathing were equally successful.