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      The patient needing prolonged mechanical ventilation: a narrative review

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          Progress in management has improved hospital mortality of patients admitted to the intensive care units, but also the prevalence of those patients needing weaning from prolonged mechanical ventilation, and of ventilator assisted individuals. The result is a number of difficult clinical and organizational problems for patients, caregivers and health services, as well as high human and financial resources consumption, despite poor long-term outcomes. An effort should be made to improve the management of these patients. This narrative review summarizes the main concepts in this field.

          Main body

          There is great variability in terminology and definitions of prolonged mechanical ventilation.

          There have been several recent developments in the field of prolonged weaning: ventilatory strategies, use of protocols, early mobilisation and physiotherapy, specialised weaning units.

          There are few published data on discharge home rates, need of home mechanical ventilation, or long-term survival of these patients.

          Whether artificial nutritional support improves the outcome for these chronic critically ill patients, is unclear and controversial how these data are reported on the optimal time of initiation of parenteral vs enteral nutrition.

          There is no consensus on time of tracheostomy or decannulation. Despite several individualized, non-comparative and non-validated decannulation protocols exist, universally accepted protocols are lacking as well as randomised controlled trials on this critical issue. End of life decisions should result from appropriate communication among professionals, patients and surrogates and national legislations should give clear indications.


          Present medical training of clinicians and locations like traditional intensive care units do not appear enough to face the dramatic problems posed by these patients. The solutions cannot be reserved to professionals but must involve also families and all other stakeholders. Large multicentric, multinational studies on several aspects of management are needed.

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          Most cited references 80

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          Weaning from mechanical ventilation.

          Weaning covers the entire process of liberating the patient from mechanical support and from the endotracheal tube. Many controversial questions remain concerning the best methods for conducting this process. An International Consensus Conference was held in April 2005 to provide recommendations regarding the management of this process. An 11-member international jury answered five pre-defined questions. 1) What is known about the epidemiology of weaning problems? 2) What is the pathophysiology of weaning failure? 3) What is the usual process of initial weaning from the ventilator? 4) Is there a role for different ventilator modes in more difficult weaning? 5) How should patients with prolonged weaning failure be managed? The main recommendations were as follows. 1) Patients should be categorised into three groups based on the difficulty and duration of the weaning process. 2) Weaning should be considered as early as possible. 3) A spontaneous breathing trial is the major diagnostic test to determine whether patients can be successfully extubated. 4) The initial trial should last 30 min and consist of either T-tube breathing or low levels of pressure support. 5) Pressure support or assist-control ventilation modes should be favoured in patients failing an initial trial/trials. 6) Noninvasive ventilation techniques should be considered in selected patients to shorten the duration of intubation but should not be routinely used as a tool for extubation failure.
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            Guidelines for the Provision and Assessment of Nutrition Support Therapy in the Adult Critically Ill Patient: Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) and American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (A.S.P.E.N.).

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              End-of-life practices in European intensive care units: the Ethicus Study.

              While the adoption of practice guidelines is standardizing many aspects of patient care, ethical dilemmas are occurring because of forgoing life-sustaining therapies in intensive care and are dealt with in diverse ways between different countries and cultures. To determine the frequency and types of actual end-of-life practices in European intensive care units (ICUs) and to analyze the similarities and differences. A prospective, observational study of European ICUs. Consecutive patients who died or had any limitation of therapy. Prospectively defined end-of-life practices in 37 ICUs in 17 European countries were studied from January 1, 1999, to June 30, 2000. Comparison and analysis of the frequencies and patterns of end-of-life care by geographic regions and different patients and professionals. Of 31 417 patients admitted to ICUs, 4248 patients (13.5%) died or had a limitation of life-sustaining therapy. Of these, 3086 patients (72.6%) had limitations of treatments (10% of admissions). Substantial intercountry variability was found in the limitations and the manner of dying: unsuccessful cardiopulmonary resuscitation in 20% (range, 5%-48%), brain death in 8% (range, 0%-15%), withholding therapy in 38% (range, 16%-70%), withdrawing therapy in 33% (range, 5%-69%), and active shortening of the dying process in 2% (range, 0%-19%). Shortening of the dying process was reported in 7 countries. Doses of opioids and benzodiazepines reported for shortening of the dying process were in the same range as those used for symptom relief in previous studies. Limitation of therapy vs continuation of life-sustaining therapy was associated with patient age, acute and chronic diagnoses, number of days in ICU, region, and religion (P<.001). The limiting of life-sustaining treatment in European ICUs is common and variable. Limitations were associated with patient age, diagnoses, ICU stay, and geographic and religious factors. Although shortening of the dying process is rare, clarity between withdrawing therapies and shortening of the dying process and between therapies intended to relieve pain and suffering and those intended to shorten the dying process may be lacking.

                Author and article information

                39-338-5053839 ,
                Multidiscip Respir Med
                Multidiscip Respir Med
                Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine
                BioMed Central (London )
                26 February 2018
                26 February 2018
                : 13
                [1 ]Istituti Clinici Scientifici Maugeri, IRCCS, Istituto Scientifico di Montescano, 27040 Montescano, PV Italy
                [2 ]Istituti Clinici Scientifici Maugeri, IRCCS, Respiratory Unit, Istituto Scientifico di Lumezzane, Lumezzane, BS Italy
                © The Author(s). 2018

                Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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