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      The difficult airway with recommendations for management – Part 1 – Difficult tracheal intubation encountered in an unconscious/induced patient


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          Previously active in the mid-1990s, the Canadian Airway Focus Group (CAFG) studied the unanticipated difficult airway and made recommendations on management in a 1998 publication. The CAFG has since reconvened to examine more recent scientific literature on airway management. The Focus Group’s mandate for this article was to arrive at updated practice recommendations for management of the unconscious/induced patient in whom difficult or failed tracheal intubation is encountered.


          Nineteen clinicians with backgrounds in anesthesia, emergency medicine, and intensive care joined this iteration of the CAFG. Each member was assigned topics and conducted reviews of Medline, EMBASE, and Cochrane databases. Results were presented and discussed during multiple teleconferences and two face-to-face meetings. When appropriate, evidence- or consensus-based recommendations were made together with assigned levels of evidence modelled after previously published criteria.


          The clinician must be aware of the potential for harm to the patient that can occur with multiple attempts at tracheal intubation. This likelihood can be minimized by moving early from an unsuccessful primary intubation technique to an alternative “Plan B” technique if oxygenation by face mask or ventilation using a supraglottic device is non-problematic. Irrespective of the technique(s) used, failure to achieve successful tracheal intubation in a maximum of three attempts defines failed tracheal intubation and signals the need to engage an exit strategy. Failure to oxygenate by face mask or supraglottic device ventilation occurring in conjunction with failed tracheal intubation defines a failed oxygenation, “cannot intubate, cannot oxygenate” situation. Cricothyrotomy must then be undertaken without delay, although if not already tried, an expedited and concurrent attempt can be made to place a supraglottic device.



          Actif au milieu des années 1990, le Canadian Airway Focus Group (CAFG), un groupe dédié à l’étude des difficultés imprévues dans la prise en charge des voies aériennes, a émis des recommandations sur ce sujet dans une publication datant de 1998. Le CAFG s’est réuni à nouveau pour passer en revue la littérature scientifique récente concernant la prise en charge des voies aériennes. Dans cet article, le CAFG s’est donné pour mission d’émettre des recommandations visant la prise en charge du patient inconscient ou anesthésié qui présente des difficultés d’intubation significatives.


          Dix-neuf cliniciens ayant une formation en anesthésie, en médecine d’urgence ou en soins intensifs composent le CAFG actuel. Les participants ont passé en revue des sujets précis en consultant les bases de données Medline, EMBASE et Cochrane. Les résultats de ces revues ont été présentés et discutés dans le cadre de téléconférences et de deux réunions en personne. Lorsqu’indiqué, des recommandations fondées sur des données probantes ou sur un consensus ont été émises. Le niveau de confiance attribué à ces recommandations a aussi été défini.


          Le clinicien doit avoir conscience des lésions qu’il peut infliger lors de tentatives multiples d’intubation trachéale. Il est possible d’éviter de telles lésions en abandonnant rapidement une technique d’intubation infructueuse afin d’opter pour une méthode alternative (ou ‘plan B’) à condition que l’oxygénation par masque facial ou par l’utilisation d’un dispositif supraglottique s’avère possible. Nonobstant la ou les techniques choisies, un maximum de trois tentatives infructueuses mène à la conclusion qu’il s’agit d’un échec d’intubation et devrait inciter le clinicien à adopter une stratégie de retrait. Une situation dans laquelle il est impossible de procéder à l’oxygénation du patient à l’aide d’un masque facial, d’un dispositif supraglottique ou de l’intubation endotrachéale est qualifiée de scénario cannot intubate, cannot ventilate. Il est alors impératif de procéder sans délai à une cricothyrotomie, à moins que l’insertion d’un dispositif supraglottique n’ait été tentée. Celle-ci peut alors être effectuée rapidement et parallèlement à la réalisation de la cricothyrotomie.

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          Major complications of airway management in the UK: results of the Fourth National Audit Project of the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Difficult Airway Society. Part 1: anaesthesia.

          This project was devised to estimate the incidence of major complications of airway management during anaesthesia in the UK and to study these events. Reports of major airway management complications during anaesthesia (death, brain damage, emergency surgical airway, unanticipated intensive care unit admission) were collected from all National Health Service hospitals for 1 yr. An expert panel assessed inclusion criteria, outcome, and airway management. A matched concurrent census estimated a denominator of 2.9 million general anaesthetics annually. Of 184 reports meeting inclusion criteria, 133 related to general anaesthesia: 46 events per million general anaesthetics [95% confidence interval (CI) 38-54] or one per 22,000 (95% CI 1 per 26-18,000). Anaesthesia events led to 16 deaths and three episodes of persistent brain damage: a mortality rate of 5.6 per million general anaesthetics (95% CI 2.8-8.3): one per 180,000 (95% CI 1 per 352-120,000). These estimates assume that all such cases were captured. Rates of death and brain damage for different airway devices (facemask, supraglottic airway, tracheal tube) varied little. Airway management was considered good in 19% of assessable anaesthesia cases. Elements of care were judged poor in three-quarters: in only three deaths was airway management considered exclusively good. Although these data suggest the incidence of death and brain damage from airway management during general anaesthesia is low, statistical analysis of the distribution of reports suggests as few as 25% of relevant incidents may have been reported. It therefore provides an indication of the lower limit for incidence of such complications. The review of airway management indicates that in a majority of cases, there is 'room for improvement'.
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            Grading strength of recommendations and quality of evidence in clinical guidelines: report from an american college of chest physicians task force.

            While grading the strength of recommendations and the quality of underlying evidence enhances the usefulness of clinical guidelines, the profusion of guideline grading systems undermines the value of the grading exercise. An American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) task force formulated the criteria for a grading system to be utilized in all ACCP guidelines that included simplicity and transparency, explicitness of methodology, and consistency with current methodological approaches to the grading process. The working group examined currently available systems, and ultimately modified an approach formulated by the international GRADE group. The grading scheme classifies recommendations as strong (grade 1) or weak (grade 2), according to the balance among benefits, risks, burdens, and possibly cost, and the degree of confidence in estimates of benefits, risks, and burdens. The system classifies quality of evidence as high (grade A), moderate (grade B), or low (grade C) according to factors that include the study design, the consistency of the results, and the directness of the evidence. For all future ACCP guidelines, The College has adopted a simple, transparent approach to grading recommendations that is consistent with current developments in the field. The trend toward uniformity of approaches to grading will enhance the usefulness of practice guidelines for clinicians.
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              Difficult tracheal intubation in obstetrics.

              Difficult intubation has been classified into four grades, according to the view obtainable at laryngoscopy. Frequency analysis suggests that, in obstetrics, the main cause of trouble is grade 3, in which the epiglottis can be seen, but not the cords. This group is fairly rare so that a proportion of anaesthetists will not meet the problem in their first few years and may thus be unprepared for it in obstetrics. However the problem can be simulated in routine anaesthesia, so that a drill for managing it can be practised. Laryngoscopy is carried out as usual, then the blade is lowered so that the epiglottis descends and hides the cords. Intubation has to be done blind, using the Macintosh method. This can be helpful as part of the training before starting in the maternity department, supplementing the Aberdeen drill.

                Author and article information

                +902-473-4326 , +902-473-3820 , jlaw@dal.ca
                Can J Anaesth
                Can J Anaesth
                Canadian Journal of Anaesthesia
                Springer US (Boston )
                17 October 2013
                17 October 2013
                : 60
                : 1089-1118
                Department of Anesthesia, Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, Dalhousie University, Halifax Infirmary Site, 1796 Summer Street, Halifax, NS B3H 3A7 Canada
                © The Author(s) 2013

                Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.

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                © Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society 2013

                Anesthesiology & Pain management
                Anesthesiology & Pain management


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