Background: In patients with the acute respiratory distress syndrome, massive alveolar collapse and cyclic lung reopening and overdistention during mechanical ventilation may perpetuate alveolar injury. We determined whether a ventilatory strategy designed to minimize such lung injuries could reduce not only pulmonary complications but also mortality at 28 days in patients with the acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Methods: We randomly assigned 53 patients with early acute respiratory distress syndrome (including 28 described previously), all of whom were receiving identical hemodynamic and general support, to conventional or protective mechanical ventilation. Conventional ventilation was based on the strategy of maintaining the lowest positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) for acceptable oxygenation, with a tidal volume of 12 ml per kilogram of body weight and normal arterial carbon dioxide levels (35 to 38 mm Hg). Protective ventilation involved end-expiratory pressures above the lower inflection point on the static pressure-volume curve, a tidal volume of less than 6 ml per kilogram, driving pressures of less than 20 cm of water above the PEEP value, permissive hypercapnia, and preferential use of pressure-limited ventilatory modes.
Results: After 28 days, 11 of 29 patients (38 percent) in the protective-ventilation group had died, as compared with 17 of 24 (71 percent) in the conventional-ventilation group (P<0.001). The rates of weaning from mechanical ventilation were 66 percent in the protective-ventilation group and 29 percent in the conventional-ventilation group (P=0.005): the rates of clinical barotrauma were 7 percent and 42 percent, respectively (P=0.02), despite the use of higher PEEP and mean airway pressures in the protective-ventilation group. The difference in survival to hospital discharge was not significant; 13 of 29 patients (45 percent) in the protective-ventilation group died in the hospital, as compared with 17 of 24 in the conventional-ventilation group (71 percent, P=0.37).
Conclusions: As compared with conventional ventilation, the protective strategy was associated with improved survival at 28 days, a higher rate of weaning from mechanical ventilation, and a lower rate of barotrauma in patients with the acute respiratory distress syndrome. Protective ventilation was not associated with a higher rate of survival to hospital discharge.