Background: Delay of tracheostomy for roughly 2 weeks after translaryngeal intubation of critically ill patients is the presently recommended practice and is supported by findings from large trials. However, these trials were suboptimally powered to detect small but clinically important effects on mortality. We aimed to assess the mortality benefit of early versus late or no tracheostomy in critically ill patients who need mechanical ventilation. Methods: We systematically searched PubMed, CINAHL, Embase, Web of Science, DOAJ, the Cochrane Library, references of relevant articles, scientific conference proceedings, and grey literature up to Aug 31, 2013, to identify randomised controlled trials comparing early tracheostomy (done within 1 week after translaryngeal intubation) with late (done any time after the first week of mechanical ventilation) or no tracheostomy and reporting on mortality or incidence of pneumonia in critically ill patients under mechanical ventilation. Our primary outcomes were all-cause mortality during the stay in the intensive-care unit and incidence of ventilator-associated pneumonia. We calculated pooled odds ratios (OR), pooled risk ratios (RR), and 95% CIs with a random-effects model. All but complications analyses were done on an intention-to-treat basis. Findings: Analyses of 13 trials (2434 patients, 800 deaths) showed that all-cause mortality in the intensive-care unit was significantly lower in patients assigned to the early versus the late or no tracheostomy group (OR 0·72, 95% CI 0·53-0·98; p=0·04). This finding represents an 18% reduction in the relative risk of death, translating to a 5% absolute improvement in survival (from 65% to 70%). This result persisted when we considered only trials with a low risk of bias (663 deaths; OR 0·68, 95% CI 0·49-0·95; p=0·02; eight trials with 1934 patients). There was no evidence of a difference between the compared groups for 1-year mortality (788 deaths; RR 0·93, 95% CI 0·85-1·02; p=0·14; three trials with 1529 patients). Interpretation: The synthesised evidence suggests that early tracheostomy is associated with lower mortality in the intensive-care unit than late or no tracheostomy; a finding that might question the present practice of delaying tracheostomy beyond the first week after translaryngeal intubation in mechanically ventilated patients. However, the scarcity of a beneficial effect on long-term mortality and the potential complications associated with tracheostomy need careful consideration; thus, further studies focusing on long-term outcomes are warranted. Funding: None.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine