Skip to main content
  • Journal club critique
  • Published:

An ounce of prevention: Noninvasive ventilation to prevent postextubation respiratory failure

Expanded Abstract


Nava S, Gregoretti C, Fanfulla F, Squadrone E, Grassi M, Carlucci A, Beltrame F, Navalesi P: Noninvasive ventilation to prevent respiratory failure after extubation in high-risk patients. Crit Care Med 2005, 33:2465–2470. [1]


Compared with standard medical therapy (SMT), noninvasive ventilation (NIV) does not reduce the need for reintubation in unselected patients who develop respiratory failure after extubation. The goal of this study was to assess whether early application of NIV, immediately after extubation, is effective in preventing postextubation respiratory failure in an at-risk population.


Design and setting

Multicenter randomized controlled study in three intensive care units (ICUs).


Ninety-seven consecutive patients with similar baseline characteristics requiring >48 hours of mechanical ventilation and considered at risk of developing postextubation respiratory failure (i.e., patients who had hypercapnia, congestive heart failure, ineffective cough and excessive tracheobronchial secretions, more than one failure of a weaning trial, more than one comorbid condition, and upper airway obstruction).


After a successful weaning trial, the patients were randomized to receive NIV for ≥8 hrs a day in the first 48 hrs or SMT. Primary outcome was the need for reintubation according to standardized criteria. Secondary outcomes were ICU and hospital mortality as well as time spent in the ICU and in hospital.

Measurements and main results

The trial was stopped early after interim analysis. Compared with the SMT group, the NIV group had a lower rate of reintubation (four of 48 (8.3%) vs. 12 of 49 (24.5%); p = .027). The need for reintubation was associated with a higher risk of mortality (p < .01). The use of NIV resulted in a reduction of risk of ICU mortality (-10%, p < .01), mediated by the reduction in the need for reintubation.


NIV was more effective than SMT in preventing postextubation respiratory failure in a population considered at risk of developing this complication.


Postextubation acute respiratory failure (ARF) is a common event, leading to reintubation in as many as 24% of patients [2, 3] and increasing cost, length of stay, and mortality. NIV has been used to manage ARF in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and acute cardiogenic pulmonary edema, leading others to suggest that it might be useful for patients with postextubation ARF. However, two recent randomized controlled studies failed to show a benefit of NIV in treating established postextubation ARF in heterogeneous patient populations [4, 5]. In fact, the results from one study suggested that NIV is harmful [4].

An ancient proverb proposed that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." It is precisely this approach that Nava and coworkers [1] take in the current study. In this multicenter randomized control trial, the authors used NIV to prevent, rather than to treat, postextubation ARF, focusing their efforts on a select patient population at high risk of failure. The trial was stopped early at a planned interim analysis when it was found that NIV significantly lowered reintubation rates. The authors concluded that NIV may play a role in the prevention of postextubation ARF in select high-risk patients groups.

In the setting of postextubation ARF, the concept of prevention has significant face validity. Application of NIV prior to the onset of respiratory muscle fatigue or before there is significant atelectasis might avert a "vicious cycle" of increasing dyspnea, dysfunctional respiratory pattern and mechanics, and weakness culminating in overt respiratory failure.

As is often the case, there are limitations to this study that deserve consideration. Foremost among these is that the study was stopped early. Though this decision occurred at a planned interim analysis, it resulted in a relatively small sample size that may have weakened the strength of the results and obscured a clear effect on mortality. By design, the investigators studied a select patient population. The study cohort included a high proportion of COPD patients, and NIV is known to be quite effective in this population. The results of this study, therefore, should not be extended to patient populations differing from those of the study.

The application and titration of NIV can be a complicated endeavor. One cannot simply put a NIV mask on the patient, turn on the ventilator, and walk away. The authors have significant experience in the use of this technique, which accounts for the very high tolerance of NIV in the study and which might partially explain the observed difference in outcome. Although it is impossible to provide a single, uniform "prescription" for effectively applying NIV, recent clinical investigations suggest that close attention to patient-ventilator interaction can substantially improve tolerance of NIV. Elements of this interaction include the magnitude of the mask leak, the point at which the ventilator terminates inspiratory pressure application, and the rate at which the circuit is pressurized [69]. Interestingly, automatic adjustment of key parameters may some day be possible [10].


These results, in context with a wealth of physiological data and clearly demonstrated utility in other settings, suggest that "prophylactic" postextubation NIV, properly applied, might prove to be a valuable adjunctive measure in select high-risk patients. Further study and confirmation are warranted.


  1. Nava S, Gregoretti C, Fanfulla F, Squadrone E, Grassi M, Carlucci A, Beltrame F, Navalesi P: Noninvasive ventilation to prevent respiratory failure after extubation in high-risk patients. Crit Care Med 2005, 33: 2465-2470. 10.1097/01.CCM.0000186416.44752.72

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Demling RH, Read T, Lind LJ, Flanagan HL: Incidence and morbidity of extubation failure in surgical intensive care patients. Crit Care Med 1988, 16: 573-577.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Torres A, Gatell JM, Aznar E, el Ebiary M, Puig dlB, Gonzalez J, Ferrer M, Rodriguez-Roisin R: Re-intubation increases the risk of nosocomial pneumonia in patients needing mechanical ventilation. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1995, 152: 137-141.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Esteban A, Frutos-Vivar F, Ferguson ND, Arabi Y, Apezteguia C, Gonzalez M, Epstein SK, Hill NS, Nava S, Soares MA, D'Empaire G, Alia I, Anzueto A: Noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation for respiratory failure after extubation. N Engl J Med 2004, 350: 2452-2460. 10.1056/NEJMoa032736

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Keenan SP, Powers C, McCormack DG, Block G: Noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation for postextubation respiratory distress: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2002, 287: 3238-3244. 10.1001/jama.287.24.3238

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Chiumello D, Pelosi P, Taccone P, Slutsky A, Gattinoni L: Effect of different inspiratory rise time and cycling off criteria during pressure support ventilation in patients recovering from acute lung injury. Crit Care Med 2003, 31: 2604-2610. 10.1097/01.CCM.0000089939.11032.36

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Prinianakis G, Delmastro M, Carlucci A, Ceriana P, Nava S: Effect of varying the pressurisation rate during noninvasive pressure support ventilation. Eur Respir J 2004, 23: 314-320. 10.1183/09031936.03.00010203

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Rabec CA, Reybet-Degat O, Bonniaud P, Fanton A, Camus P: [Leak monitoring in noninvasive ventilation]. Arch Bronconeumol 2004, 40: 508-517. 10.1157/13067572

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Tassaux D, Gainnier M, Battisti A, Jolliet P: Impact of expiratory trigger setting on delayed cycling and inspiratory muscle workload. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2005, 172: 1283-1289. 10.1164/rccm.200407-880OC

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Battisti A, Roeseler J, Tassaux D, Jolliet P: Automatic adjustment of pressure support by a computer-driven knowledge-based system during noninvasive ventilation: a feasibility study. Intensive Care Med 2006.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Haddad, B., Hotchkiss, J.R. An ounce of prevention: Noninvasive ventilation to prevent postextubation respiratory failure. Crit Care 10, 314 (2006).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: