Week 52 – Symptom-Triggered Benzodiazepines in Alcohol Withdrawal

“Symptom-Triggered vs Fixed-Schedule Doses of Benzodiazepine for Alcohol Withdrawal”

Arch Intern Med. 2002 May 27;162(10):1117-21. [free full text]

Treatment of alcohol withdrawal with benzodiazepines has been the standard of care for decades. However, in the 1990s, benzodiazepine therapy for alcohol withdrawal was generally given via fixed doses. In 1994, a double-blind RCT by Saitz et al. demonstrated that symptom-triggered therapy based on responses to the CIWA-Ar scale reduced treatment duration and the amount of benzodiazepine used relative to a fixed-schedule regimen. This trial had little immediate impact in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal. The authors of the 2002 double-blind RCT sought to confirm the findings from 1994 in a larger population that did not exclude patients with a history of seizures or severe alcohol withdrawal.

The trial enrolled consecutive patients admitted to the inpatient alcohol treatment units at two European universities (excluding those with “major cognitive, psychiatric, or medical comorbidity”) and randomized them to treatment with either scheduled placebo (30mg q6hrs x4, followed by 15mg q6hrs x8) with additional PRN oxazepam 15mg for CIWA score 8-15 and 30mg for CIWA score > 15 or to treatment with scheduled oxazepam (30mg q6hrs x4, followed by 15mg q6hrs x8) with additional PRN oxazepam 15mg for CIWA score 8-15 and 30mg for CIWA score > 15.

The primary outcomes were cumulative oxazepam dose at 72 hours and duration of treatment with oxazepam. Subgroup analysis included the exclusion of symptomatic patients who did not require any oxazepam. Secondary outcomes included incidence of seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens at 72 hours.

117 patients completed the trial. 56 had been randomized to the symptom-triggered group, and 61 had been randomized to the fixed-schedule group. The groups were similar in all baseline characteristics except that the fixed-schedule group had on average a 5-hour longer interval since last drink prior to admission. While only 39% of the symptom-triggered group actually received oxazepam, 100% of the fixed-schedule group did (p < 0.001). Patients in the symptom-triggered group received a mean cumulative dose of 37.5mg versus 231.4mg in the fixed-schedule group (p < 0.001). The mean duration of oxazepam treatment was 20.0 hours in the symptom-triggered group versus 62.7 hours in the fixed-schedule group. The group difference in total oxazepam dose persisted even when patients who did not receive any oxazepam were excluded. Among patients who did receive oxazepam, patients in the symptom-triggered group received 95.4 ± 107.7mg versus 231.4 ± 29.4mg in the fixed-dose group (p < 0.001). Only one patient in the symptom-triggered group sustained a seizure. There were no seizures, hallucinations, or episodes of delirium tremens in any of the other 116 patients. The two treatment groups had similar quality-of-life and symptom scores aside from slightly higher physical functioning in the symptom-triggered group (p < 0.01). See Table 2.

Symptom-triggered administration of benzodiazepines in alcohol withdrawal led to a six-fold reduction in cumulative benzodiazepine use and a much shorter duration of pharmacotherapy than fixed-schedule administration. This more restrictive and responsive strategy did not increase the risk of major adverse outcomes such as seizure or DTs and also did not result in increased patient discomfort.

Overall, this study confirmed the findings of the landmark study by Saitz et al. from eight years prior. Additionally, this trial was larger and did not exclude patients with a prior history of withdrawal seizures or severe withdrawal. The fact that both studies took place in inpatient specialty psychiatry units limits their generalizability to our inpatient general medicine populations.

Why the initial 1994 study did not gain clinical traction remains unclear. Both studies have been well-cited over the ensuing decades, and the paradigm has shifted firmly toward symptom-triggered benzodiazepine regimens using the CIWA scale. While a 2010 Cochrane review cites only the 1994 study, Wiki Journal Club and 2 Minute Medicine have entries on this 2002 study but not on the equally impressive 1994 study.

Further Reading/References:
1. “Individualized treatment for alcohol withdrawal. A randomized double-blind controlled trial.” JAMA. 1994.
2. Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol Scale, Revised (CIWA-Ar)
3. Wiki Journal Club
4. 2 Minute Medicine
5. “Benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: VisualBeo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 39 – Early TIPS in Cirrhosis with Variceal Bleeding

“Early Use of TIPS in Patients with Cirrhosis and Variceal Bleeding”

N Engl J Med. 2010 Jun 24;362(25):2370-9. [free full text]

Variceal bleeding is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in decompensated cirrhosis. The standard of care for an acute variceal bleed includes a combination of vasoactive drugs, prophylactic antibiotics, and endoscopic techniques (e.g. banding). Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) can be used to treat refractory bleeding. This 2010 trial sought to determine the utility of early TIPS during the initial bleed in high-risk patients when compared to standard therapy.

The trial enrolled cirrhotic patients (Child-Pugh class B or C with score ≤ 13) with acute esophageal variceal bleeding. All patients received endoscopic band ligation (EBL) or endoscopic injection sclerotherapy (EIS) at the time of diagnostic endoscopy. All patients also received vasoactive drugs (terlipressin, somatostatin, or octreotide). Patients were randomized to either TIPS performed within 72 hours after diagnostic endoscopy or to “standard therapy” by 1) treatment with vasoactive drugs with transition to nonselective beta blocker when patients were free of bleeding followed by 2) addition of isosorbide mononitrate to maximum tolerated dose, and 3) a second session of EBL at 7-14 days after the initial session (repeated q10-14 days until variceal eradication was achieved). The primary outcome was a composite of failure to control acute bleeding or failure to prevent “clinically significant” variceal bleeding (requiring hospital admission or transfusion) at 1 year after enrollment. Selected secondary outcomes included 1-year mortality, development of hepatic encephalopathy (HE), ICU days, and hospital LOS.

359 patients were screened for inclusion, but ultimately only 63 were randomized. Baseline characteristics were similar among the two groups except that the early TIPS group had a higher rate of patients with previous hepatic encephalopathy. The primary composite endpoint of failure to control acute bleeding or rebleeding within 1 year occurred in 14 of 31 (45%) patients in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group and in only 1 of 32 (3%) of the early TIPS group (p = 0.001). The 1-year actuarial probability of remaining free of the primary outcome was 97% in the early TIPS group vs. 50% in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group (ARR 47 percentage points, 95% CI 25-69 percentage points, NNT 2.1). Regarding mortality, at one year, 12 of 31 (39%) patients in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group had died, while only 4 of 32 (13%) in the early TIPS group had died (p = 0.001, NNT = 4.0). There were no group differences in prevalence of HE at one year (28% in the early TIPS group vs. 40% in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group, p = 0.13). Additionally, there were no group differences in 1-year actuarial probability of new or worsening ascites. There were also no differences in length of ICU stay or hospitalization duration.

Early TIPS in acute esophageal variceal bleeding, when compared to standard pharmacotherapy and endoscopic band ligation, improved control of index bleeding, reduced recurrent variceal bleeding at 1 year, and reduced all-cause mortality. Prior studies had demonstrated that TIPS reduced the rebleeding rate but increased the rate of hepatic encephalopathy without improving survival. As such, TIPS had only been recommended as a rescue therapy. In contrast, this study presents compelling data that challenge these paradigms. The authors note that in “patients with Child-Pugh class C or in class B with active variceal bleeding, failure to initially control the bleeding or early rebleeding contributes to further deterioration in liver function, which in turn worsens the prognosis and may preclude the use of rescue TIPS.” Despite this, today, TIPS remains primarily a salvage therapy for use in cases of recurrent bleeding despite standard pharmacotherapy and EBL. There may be a subset of patients in whom early TIPS is the ideal strategy, but further trials will be required to identify this subset.

Further Reading/References:
1. Wiki Journal Club
2. 2 Minute Medicine
3. UpToDate, “Prevention of recurrent variceal hemorrhage in patients with cirrhosis”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 36 – CORTICUS

“Hydrocortisone Therapy for Patients with Septic Shock”

N Engl J Med. 2008 Jan 10;358(2):111-24. [free full text]

Steroid therapy in septic shock has been a hotly debated topic since the 1980s. The Annane trial in 2002 suggested that there was a mortality benefit to early steroid therapy and so for almost a decade this became standard of care. In 2008, the CORTICUS trial was performed suggesting otherwise.

The trial enrolled ICU patients with septic shock onset with past 72 hrs (defined as SBP < 90 despite fluids or need for vasopressors and hypoperfusion or organ dysfunction from sepsis). Excluded patients included those with an “underlying disease with a poor prognosis,” life expectancy < 24hrs, immunosuppression, and recent corticosteroid use. Patients were randomized to hydrocortisone 50mg IV q6h x5 days plus taper or to placebo injections q6h x5 days plus taper. The primary outcome was 28-day mortality among patients who did not have a response to ACTH stim test (cortisol rise < 9mcg/dL). Secondary outcomes included 28-day mortality in patients who had a positive response to ACTH stim test, 28-day mortality in all patients, reversal of shock (defined as SBP ≥ 90 for at least 24hrs without vasopressors) in all patients and time to reversal of shock in all patients.

In ACTH non-responders (n = 233), intervention vs. control 28-day mortality was 39.2% vs. 36.1%, respectively (p = 0.69). In ACTH responders (n = 254), intervention vs. control 28-day mortality was 28.8% vs. 28.7% respectively (p = 1.00). Reversal of was shock 84.7%% vs. 76.5% (p = 0.13). Among all patients, intervention vs. control 28-day mortality was 34.3% vs. 31.5% (p = 0.51) and reversal of shock 79.7% vs. 74.2% (p = 0.18). The duration of time to reversal of shock was significantly shorter among patients receiving hydrocortisone (per Kaplan-Meier analysis, p<0.001; see Figure 2) with median time to of reversal 3.3 days vs. 5.8 days (95% CI 5.2 – 6.9).

In conclusion, the CORTICUS trial demonstrated no mortality benefit of steroid therapy in septic shock regardless of a patient’s response to ACTH. Despite the lack of mortality benefit, it demonstrated an earlier resolution of shock with steroids. This lack of mortality benefit sharply contrasted with the previous Annane 2002 study. Several reasons have been posited for this difference including poor powering of the CORTICUS study (which did not reach the desired n = 800), inclusion starting within 72 hrs of septic shock vs. Annane starting within 8 hrs, and the overall sicker nature of Annane patients (who were all mechanically ventilated). Subsequent meta-analyses disagree about the mortality benefit of steroids, but meta-regression analyses suggest benefit among the sickest patients. All studies agree about the improvement in shock reversal. The 2016 Surviving Sepsis Campaign guidelines recommend IV hydrocortisone in septic shock in patients who continue to be hemodynamically unstable despite adequate fluid resuscitation and vasopressor therapy.

Per Drs. Sonti and Vinayak of the GUH MICU (excepted from their excellent Georgetown Critical Care Top 40): “Practically, we use steroids when reaching for a second pressor or if there is multiorgan system dysfunction. Our liver patients may have deficient cortisol production due to inadequate precursor lipid production; use of corticosteroids in these patients represents physiologic replacement rather than adjunct supplement.”

The ANZICS collaborative group published the ADRENAL trial in NEJM in 2018 – which demonstrated that “among patients with septic shock undergoing mechanical ventilation, a continuous infusion of hydrocortisone did not result in lower 90-day mortality than placebo.” The authors did note “a more rapid resolution of shock and a lower incidence of blood transfusion” among patients receiving hydrocortisone. The folks at EmCrit argued that this was essentially a negative study, and thus in the existing context of CORTICUS, the results of the ADRENAL trial do not change our management of refractory septic shock.

Finally, the 2018 APPROCCHSS trial (also by Annane) evaluated the survival benefit hydrocortisone plus fludocortisone vs. placebo in patients with septic shock and found that this intervention reduced 90-day all-cause mortality. At this time, it is difficult truly discern the added information of this trial given its timeframe, sample size, and severity of underlying illness. See the excellent discussion in the following links: WikiJournal Club, PulmCrit, PulmCCM, and UpToDate.

References / Additional Reading:
1. CORTICUS @ Wiki Journal Club
2. CORTICUS @ Minute Medicine
3. Surviving Sepsis Campaign: International Guidelines for Management of Sepsis and Septic Shock (2016), section “Corticosteroids”
4. Annane trial (2002) full text
5. PulmCCM, “Corticosteroids do help in sepsis: ADRENAL trial”
6. UpToDate, “Glucocorticoid therapy in septic shock”

Post by Gordon Pelegrin, MD

Image Credit: LHcheM, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 34 – HACA

“Mild Therapeutic Hypothermia to Improve the Neurologic Outcome After Cardiac Arrest”

by the Hypothermia After Cardiac Arrest Study Group

N Engl J Med. 2002 Feb 21;346(8):549-56. [free full text]

Neurologic injury after cardiac arrest is a significant source of morbidity and mortality. It is hypothesized that brain reperfusion injury (via the generation of free radicals and other inflammatory mediators) following ischemic time is the primary pathophysiologic basis. Animal models and limited human studies have demonstrated that patients treated with mild hypothermia following cardiac arrest have improved neurologic outcome. The 2002 HACA study sought to evaluate prospectively the utility of therapeutic hypothermia in reducing neurologic sequelae and mortality post-arrest.

Population: European patients who achieve return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) after presenting to the ED in cardiac arrest

inclusion criteria: witnessed arrest, ventricular fibrillation or non-perfusing ventricular tachycardia as initial rhythm, estimated interval 5 to 15 min from collapse to first resuscitation attempt, no more than 60 min from collapse to ROSC, age 18-75

pertinent exclusion criteria: pt already < 30ºC on admission, comatose state prior to arrest due to CNS drugs, response to commands following ROSC

Intervention: Cooling to target temperature 32-34ºC with maintenance for 24 hrs followed by passive rewarming. Patients received pancuronium for neuromuscular blockade to prevent shivering.

Comparison: Standard intensive care


Primary: a “favorable neurologic outcome” at 6 months defined as Pittsburgh cerebral-performance scale category 1 (good recovery) or 2 (moderate disability). (Of note, the examiner was blinded to treatment group allocation.)


        • all-cause mortality at 6 months
        • specific complications within the first 7 days: bleeding “of any severity,” pneumonia, sepsis, pancreatitis, renal failure, pulmonary edema, seizures, arrhythmias, and pressure sores

3551 consecutive patients were assessed for enrollment and ultimately 275 met inclusion criteria and were randomized. The normothermia group had more baseline DM and CAD and were more likely to have received BLS from a bystander prior to the ED.

Regarding neurologic outcome at 6 months, 75 of 136 (55%) of the hypothermia group had a favorable neurologic outcome, versus 54/137 (39%) in the normothermia group (RR 1.40, 95% CI 1.08-1.81, p = 0.009; NNT = 6). After adjusting for all baseline characteristics, the RR increased slightly to 1.47 (95% CI 1.09-1.82).

Regarding death at 6 months, 41% of the hypothermia group had died, versus 55% of the normothermia group (RR 0.74, 95% CI 0.58-0.95, p = 0.02; NNT = 7). After adjusting for all baseline characteristics, RR = 0.62 (95% CI 0.36-0.95). There was no difference among the two groups in the rate of any complication or in the total number of complications during the first 7 days.

In ED patients with Vfib or pulseless VT arrest who did not have meaningful response to commands after ROSC, immediate therapeutic hypothermia reduced the rate of neurologic sequelae and mortality at 6 months.

Corresponding practice point from Dr. Sonti and Dr. Vinayak and their Georgetown Critical Care Top 40: “If after ROSC your patient remains unresponsive and does not have refractory hypoxemia/hypotension/coagulopathy, you should initiate therapeutic hypothermia even if the arrest was PEA. The benefit seen was substantial and any proposed biologic mechanism would seemingly apply to all causes of cardiac arrest. The investigators used pancuronium to prevent shivering; [at MGUH] there is a ‘shivering’ protocol in place and if refractory, paralytics can be used.”

This trial, as well as a concurrent publication by Benard et al. ushered in a new paradigm of therapeutic hypothermia or “targeted temperature management” (TTM) following cardiac arrest. Numerous trials in related populations and with modified interventions (e.g. target temperature 36º C) were performed over the following decade, and ultimately led to the current standard of practice.

Per UpToDate, the collective trial data suggest that “active control of the post-cardiac arrest patient’s core temperature, with a target between 32 and 36ºC, followed by active avoidance of fever, is the optimal strategy to promote patient survival.” TTM should be undertaken in all patients who do not follow commands or have purposeful movements following ROSC. Expert opinion at UpToDate recommends maintaining temperature control for at least 48 hours.

Further Reading/References:
1. HACA @ 2 Minute Medicine
2. HACA @ Wiki Journal Club
3. Georgetown Critical Care Top 40, page 23 (Jan. 2016)
4. PulmCCM.org, “Hypothermia did not help after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, in largest study yet”
5. Cochrane Review, “Hypothermia for neuroprotection in adults after cardiopulmonary resuscitation”
6. The NNT, “Mild Therapeutic Hypothermia for Neuroprotection Following CPR”
7. UpToDate, “Post-cardiac arrest management in adults”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Sergey Pesterev, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 32 – PneumA

“Comparison of 8 vs 15 Days of Antibiotic Therapy for Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia in Adults”

JAMA. 2003 November 19;290(19):2588-2598. [free full text]

Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) is a frequent complication of mechanical ventilation and, prior to this study, few trials had addressed the optimal duration of antibiotic therapy in VAP. Thus, patients frequently received 14- to 21-day antibiotic courses. As antibiotic stewardship efforts increased and awareness grew of the association between prolonged antibiotic courses and the development of multidrug resistant (MDR) infections, more data were needed to clarify the optimal VAP treatment duration.

This 2003 trial by the PneumA Trial Group was the first large randomized trial to compare shorter (8-day) versus longer (15-day) treatment courses for VAP.

The noninferiority study, carried out in 51 French ICUs, enrolled intubated patients with clinical suspicion for VAP and randomized them to either 8 or 15 days of antimicrobials. Antimicrobial regimens were chosen by the treating clinician. 401 patients met eligibility criteria. 197 were randomized to the 8-day regimen. 204 patients were randomized to the 15-day regimen. Study participants were blinded to randomization assignment until day 8. Analysis was performed using an intention-to-treat model. The primary outcomes measured were death from any cause at 28 days, antibiotic-free days, and microbiologically documented pulmonary infection recurrence.

Study findings demonstrated a similar 28-day mortality in both groups (18.8% mortality in 8-day group vs. 17.2% in 15-day group, group difference 90% CI -3.7% to 6.9%). The 8-day group did not develop more recurrent infections (28.9% in 8-day group vs. 26.0% in 15-day group, group difference 90% CI -3.2% to 9.1%). The 8-day group did have more antibiotic-free days when measured at the 28-day point (13.1 in 8-day group vs. 8.7 in 15-day group, p<0.001). A subgroup analysis did show that more 8-day-group patients who had an initial infection with lactose-nonfermenting GNRs developed a recurrent pulmonary infection, so noninferiority was not established in this specific subgroup (40.6% recurrent GNR infection in 8-day group vs. 25.4% in 15-day group, group difference 90% CI 3.9% to 26.6%).

There is no benefit to prolonging VAP treatment to 15 days (except perhaps when Pseudomonas aeruginosa is suspected based on gram stain/culture data). Shorter courses of antibiotics for VAP treatment allow for less antibiotic exposure without increasing rates of recurrent infection or mortality.

The 2016 IDSA guidelines on VAP treatment recommend a 7-day course of antimicrobials for treatment of VAP (as opposed to a longer treatment course such as 8-15 days). These guidelines are based on the IDSA’s own large meta-analysis (of 10 randomized trials, including PneumA, as well as an observational study) which demonstrated that shorter courses of antibiotics (7 days) reduce antibiotic exposure and recurrent pneumonia due to MDR organisms without affecting clinical outcomes, such as mortality. Of note, this 7-day course recommendation also applies to treatment of lactose-nonfermenting GNRs, such as Pseudomonas.

When considering the PneumA trial within the context of the newest IDSA guidelines, we see that we now have over 15 years of evidence supporting the use of shorter VAP treatment courses.

Further Reading/References:
1. 2016 IDSA Guidelines for the Management of HAP/VAP
2. PneumA @ Wiki Journal Club
3. PulmCCM “IDSA Guidelines 2016: HAP, VAP & It’s the End of HCAP as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
4. PulmCrit “The siren’s call: Double-coverage for ventilator associated PNA”

Summary by Liz Novick, MD

Week 21 – PROSEVA

“Prone Positioning in Severe Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome”
by the PROSEVA Study Group

N Engl J Med. 2013 June 6; 368(23):2159-2168 [free full text]

Prone positioning had been used for many years in ICU patients with ARDS in order to improve oxygenation. Per Dr. Sonti’s Georgetown Critical Care Top 40, the physiologic basis for benefit with proning lies in the idea that atelectatic regions of lung typically occur in the most dependent portion of an ARDS patient, with hyperinflation affecting the remaining lung. Periodic reversal of these regions via moving the patient from supine to prone and vice versa ensures no one region of the lung will have extended exposure to either atelectasis or overdistention. Although the oxygenation benefits have been long noted, the PROSEVA trial established mortality benefit.

Study patients were selected from 26 ICUs in France and 1 in Spain which had daily practice with prone positioning for at least 5 years. Inclusion criteria: ARDS patients intubated and ventilated <36hr with severe ARDS (defined as PaO2:FiO2 ratio < 150, PEEP > 5, and TV of about 6ml/kg of predicted body weight). (NB: by the Berlin definition for ARDS, severe ARDS is defined as PaO2:FiO2 ratio < 100.) Patients were either randomized to the intervention of proning within 36 hours of mechanical ventilation for at least 16 consecutive hours (n = 237) or to the control of being left in a semirecumbent (supine) position (n = 229). The primary outcome was mortality at day 28. Secondary outcomes included mortality at day 90, rate of successful extubation (no reintubation or use of noninvasive ventilation x48hr), time to successful extubation, length of stay in the ICU, complications, use of noninvasive ventilation, tracheotomy rate, number of days free from organ dysfunction, ventilator settings, measurements of ABG, and respiratory system mechanics during the first week after randomization.

At the time of randomization in the study, the majority of characteristics were similar between the two groups, although the authors noted differences in the SOFA score and the use of neuromuscular blockers and vasopressors. The supine group at baseline had a higher SOFA score indicating more severe organ failure, and also had higher rate of vasopressor usage. The prone group had a higher rate of usage of neuromuscular blockade. The primary outcome of 28 day mortality was significantly lower in the prone group than in the supine group, at 16.0% vs 32.8% (p < 0.001, NNT = 6.0). This mortality decrease was still statistically significant when adjusted for the SOFA score. Secondary outcomes were notable for a significantly higher rate of successful extubation in the prone group (hazard ratio 0.45; 95% CI 0.29-0.7, p < 0.001). Additionally, the PaO2:FiO2 ratio was significantly higher in the supine group, whereas the PEEP and FiO2 were significantly lower. The remainder of secondary outcomes were statistically similar.

PROSEVA showed a significant mortality benefit with early use of prone positioning in severe ARDS. This mortality benefit was considerably larger than that seen in past meta-analyses, which was likely due to this study selecting specifically for patients with severe disease as well as specifying longer prone-positioning sessions than employed in prior studies. Critics have noted the unexpected difference in baseline characteristics between the two arms of the study. While these critiques are reasonable, the authors mitigate at least some of these complaints by adjusting the mortality for the statistically significant differences. With such a radical mortality benefit it might be surprising that more patients are not proned at our institution. One reason is that relatively few of our patients have severe ARDS. Additionally, proning places a high demand on resources and requires a coordinated effort of multiple staff. All treatment centers in this study had specially-trained staff that had been performing proning on a daily basis for at least 5 years, and thus were very familiar with the process. With this in mind, we consider the use of proning in patients meeting criteria for severe ARDS.

References and further reading:
1. PROSEVA @ 2 Minute Medicine
2. PROSEVA @ Wiki Journal Club
3. PROSEVA @ Georgetown Critical Care Top 40, pages 8-9
4. Life in the Fastlane, Critical Care Compendium, “Prone Position and Mechanical Ventilation”
5. PulmCCM.org, “ICU Physiology in 1000 Words: The Hemodynamics of Prone”

Summary by Gordon Pelegrin, MD

Image Credit: by James Heilman, MD, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 18 – Rivers Trial

“Early Goal-Directed Therapy in the Treatment of Severe Sepsis and Septic Shock”

N Engl J Med. 2001 Nov 8;345(19):1368-77. [free full text]

Sepsis is common and, in its more severe manifestations, confers a high mortality risk. Fundamentally, sepsis is a global mismatch between oxygen demand and delivery. Around the time of this seminal study by Rivers et al., there was increasing recognition of the concept of the “golden hour” in sepsis management – “where definitive recognition and treatment provide maximal benefit in terms of outcome” (1368). Rivers and his team created a “bundle” of early sepsis interventions that targeted preload, afterload, and contractility, dubbed early goal-directed therapy (EGDT). They evaluated this bundle’s effect on mortality and end-organ dysfunction.

The “Rivers trial” randomized adults presenting to a single US academic center ED with ≥ 2 SIRS criteria and either SBP ≤ 90 after a crystalloid challenge of 20-30ml/kg over 30min or lactate > 4mmol/L to either treatment with the EGDT bundle or to the standard of care.

Intervention: early goal-directed therapy (EGDT)

      • Received a central venous catheter with continuous central venous O2 saturation (ScvO2) measurement
      • Treated according to EGDT protocol (see Figure 2, or below) in ED for at least six hours
        • 500ml bolus of crystalloid q30min to achieve CVP 8-12mm
        • Vasopressors to achieve MAP ≥ 65
        • Vasodilators to achieve MAP ≤ 90
        • If ScvO2 < 70%, transfuse RBCs to achieve Hct ≥ 30
        • If, after CVP, MAP, and Hct were optimized as above and ScvO2 remained < 70%, dobutamine was added and uptitrated to achieve ScvO2 ≥ 70 or until max dose 20 μg/kg/min
          • dobutamine was de-escalated if MAP < 65 or HR > 120
        • Patients in whom hemodynamics could not be optimized were intubated and sedated, in order to decrease oxygen consumption
      • Patients were transferred to inpatient ICU bed as soon as able, and upon transfer ScvO2 measurement was discontinued
      • Inpatient team was blinded to treatment group assignment

The primary outcome was in-hospital mortality. Secondary endpoints included: resuscitation end points, organ-dysfunction scores, coagulation-related variables, administered treatments, and consumption of healthcare resources.

130 patients were randomized to EGDT, and 133 to standard therapy. There were no differences in baseline characteristics. There was no group difference in the prevalence of antibiotics given within the first 6 hours. Standard-therapy patients spent 6.3 ± 3.2 hours in the ED, whereas EGDT patients spent 8.0 ± 2.1 (p < 0.001).

In-hospital mortality was 46.5% in the standard-therapy group, and 30.5% in the EGDT group (p = 0.009, NNT 6.25). 28-day and 60-day mortalities were also improved in the EGDT group. See Table 3.

During the initial six hours of resuscitation, there was no significant group difference in mean heart rate or CVP. MAP was higher in the EGDT group (p < 0.001), but all patients in both groups reached a MAP ≥ 65. ScvO2 ≥ 70% was met by 60.2% of standard-therapy patients and 94.9% of EGDT patients (p < 0.001). A combination endpoint of achievement of CVP, MAP, and UOP (≥ 0.5cc/kg/hr) goals was met by 86.1% of standard-therapy patients and 99.2% of EGDT patients (p < 0.001). Standard-therapy patients had lower ScvO2 and greater base deficit, while lactate and pH values were similar in both groups.

During the period of 7 to 72 hours, the organ-dysfunction scores of APACHE II, SAPS II, and MODS were higher in the standard-therapy group (see Table 2). The prothrombin time, fibrin-split products concentration, and d-dimer concentrations were higher in the standard-therapy group, while PTT, fibrinogen concentration, and platelet counts were similar.

During the initial six hours, EGDT patients received significantly more fluids, pRBCs, and inotropic support than standard-therapy patients. Rates of vasopressor use and mechanical ventilation were similar. During the period of 7 to 72 hours, standard-therapy patients received more fluids, pRBCs, and vasopressors than the EGDT group, and they were more likely to be intubated and to have pulmonary-artery catheterization. Rates of inotrope use were similar. Overall, during the first 72 hrs, standard-therapy patients were more likely to receive vasopressors, be intubated, and undergo pulmonary-artery catheterization. EGDT patients were more likely to receive pRBC transfusion. There was no group difference in total volume of fluid administration or inotrope use. Regarding utilization, there were no group differences in mean duration of vasopressor therapy, mechanical ventilation, or length of stay. Among patients who survived to discharge, standard-therapy patients spent longer in the hospital than EGDT patients (18.4 ± 15.0 vs. 14.6 ± 14.5 days, respectively, p = 0.04).

In conclusion, early goal-directed therapy reduced in-hospital mortality in patients presenting to the ED with severe sepsis or septic shock when compared with usual care. In their discussion, the authors note that “when early therapy is not comprehensive, the progression to severe disease may be well under way at the time of admission to the intensive care unit” (1376).

The Rivers trial has been cited over 11,000 times. It has been widely discussed and dissected for decades. Most importantly, it helped catalyze a then-ongoing paradigm shift of what “usual care” in sepsis is. As noted by our own Drs. Sonti and Vinayak and in their Georgetown Critical Care Top 40: “Though we do not use the ‘Rivers protocol’ as written, concepts (timely resuscitation) have certainly infiltrated our ‘standard of care’ approach.” The Rivers trial evaluated the effect of a bundle (multiple interventions). It was a relatively complex protocol, and it has been recognized that the transfusion of blood to Hgb > 10 may have caused significant harm. In aggregate, the most critical elements of the modern initial resuscitation in sepsis are early administration of antibiotics (notably not protocolized by Rivers) within the first hour and the aggressive administration of IV fluids (now usually 30cc/kg of crystalloid within the first 3 hours of presentation).

More recently, there have been three large RCTs of EGDT versus usual care and/or protocols that used some of the EGDT targets: ProCESS (2014, USA), ARISE (2014, Australia), and ProMISe (2015, UK). In general terms, EGDT provided no mortality benefit compared to usual care. Prospectively, the authors of these three trials planned a meta-analysis – the 2017 PRISM study – which concluded that “EGDT did not result in better outcomes than usual care and was associated with higher hospitalization costs across a broad range of patient and hospital characteristics.” Despite patients in the Rivers trial being sicker than those of ProCESS/ARISE/ProMISe, it was not found in the subgroup analysis of PRISM that EGDT was more beneficial in sicker patients. Overall, the PRISM authors noted that “it remains possible that general advances in the provision of care for sepsis and septic shock, to the benefit of all patients, explain part or all of the difference in findings between the trial by Rivers et al. and the more recent trials.”

Further Reading/References:
1. Rivers trial @ Wiki Journal Club
2. Rivers trial @ 2 Minute Medicine
3. “Early Goal Directed Therapy in Septic Shock” @ Life in The Fast Lane
4. Georgetown Critical Care Top 40
5. “A randomized trial of protocol-based care for early septic shock” (ProCESS). NEJM 2014.
6. “Goal-directed resuscitation for patients with early septic shock” (ARISE). NEJM 2014.
7. “Trial of early, goal-directed resuscitation for septic shock” (ProMISe). NEJM 2015.
8. “Early, Goal-Directed Therapy for Septic Shock – A Patient-level Meta-Analysis” PRISM. NEJM 2017.
9. “Hour-1 Bundle,” Surviving Sepsis Campaign
10. UpToDate, “Evaluation and management of suspected sepsis and septic shock in adults”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: by Clinical_Cases, CC BY-SA 2.5 , via Wikimedia Commons

Week 9 – Albumin in SBP

“Effect of Intravenous Albumin on Renal Impairment and Mortality in Patients with Cirrhosis and Spontaneous Bacterial Peritonitis”

N Engl J Med. 1999 Aug 5;341(6):403-9. [free full text]

Renal failure commonly develops in the setting of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP), and its development is a sensitive predictor of in-hospital mortality. The renal impairment is thought to stem from decreased effective arterial blood volume secondary to the systemic inflammatory response to the infection. In our current practice, there are certain circumstances in which we administer albumin early in the SBP disease course in order to reduce the risk of renal failure and mortality. Ultimately, our current protocol originated from the 1999 study of albumin in SBP by Sort et al.

The trial enrolled adults with SBP and randomized them to treatment with either cefotaxime and albumin infusion 1.5 gm/kg within 6hrs of enrollment, followed by 1 gm/kg on day 3 or cefotaxime alone. The primary outcome was the development of “renal impairment” (a “nonreversible” increase in BUN or Cr by more than 50% to a value greater than 30 mg/dL or 1.5 mg/dL, respectively) during hospitalization. The secondary outcome was in-hospital mortality.

126 patients were randomized. Both groups had similar baseline characteristics, and both had similar rates of resolution of infection. Renal impairment occurred in 10% of the albumin group and 33% of the cefotaxime-alone group (p = 0.02). In-hospital mortality was 10% in the albumin group and 29% in the cefotaxime-alone group (p = 0.01). 78% of patients that developed renal impairment died in-hospital, while only 3% of patients who did not develop renal impairment died. Plasma renin activity was significantly higher on days 3, 6, and 9 in the cefotaxime-alone group than in the albumin group, while there were no significant differences in MAP among the two groups at those time intervals. Multivariate analysis of all trial participants revealed that baseline serum bilirubin and creatinine were independent predictors of the development of renal impairment.

In conclusion, albumin administration reduces renal impairment and improves mortality in patients with SBP. The findings of this landmark trial were refined by a brief 2007 report by Sigal et al. entitled “Restricted use of albumin for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis.” “High-risk” patients, identified by baseline serum bilirubin of ≥ 4.0 mg/dL or Cr ≥ 1.0 mg/dL were given the intervention of albumin 1.5gm/kg on day 1 and 1gm/kg on day 3, and low-risk patients were not given albumin. None of the 15 low-risk patients developed renal impairment or died, whereas 12 of 21 (57%) of the high-risk group developed renal impairment, and 5 of the 21 (24%) died. The authors conclude that patients with bilirubin < 4.0 and Cr < 1.0 did not need scheduled albumin in the treatment of SBP. The current (2012) American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases guidelines for the management of adult patients with ascites due to cirrhosis do not definitively recommend criteria for albumin administration in SBP. Instead they summarize the aforementioned two studies. A 2013 meta-analysis of four reports/trials (including the two above) concluded that albumin infusion reduced renal impairment and improved mortality with pooled odds ratios approximately commensurate with those of the 1999 study by Sort et al. Ultimately, the current recommended practice per expert opinion is to perform albumin administration per the protocol outlined by Sigal et al. (2007).

References / Further Reading:
1. AASLD Guidelines for Management of Adult Patients with Ascites Due to Cirrhosis (skip to page 77)
2. Sigal et al. “Restricted use of albumin for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis”
3. Meta-analysis: “Albumin infusion improves outcomes of patients with spontaneous bacterial peritonitis: a meta-analysis of randomized trials”
4. Wiki Journal Club
5. 2 Minute Medicine

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 5 – Dexamethasone in Bacterial Meningitis

Streptococcus pneumoniae

“Dexamethasone in Adults With Bacterial Meningitis”

N Engl J Med 2002; 347:1549-1556 [free full text]

The current standard of care in the treatment of suspected bacterial meningitis in the developed world includes the administration of dexamethasone prior to or at the time of antibiotic initiation. The initial evaluation of this practice in part stemmed from animal studies, which demonstrated that dexamethasone reduced CSF concentrations of inflammatory markers as well as neurologic sequelae after meningitis. RCTs in the pediatric literature also demonstrated clinical benefit. The best prospective trial in adults was this 2002 study by de Gans et al.

The trial enrolled adults with suspected meningitis and randomized them to either dexamethasone 10mg IV q6hrs x4 days started 15-20 minutes before the first IV antibiotics or a placebo IV with the same administration schedule. The primary outcome was the Glasgow Outcome Scale at 8 weeks (1 = death, 2 = vegetative state, 3 = unable to live independently, 4 = unable to return to school/work, 5 = able to return to school/work). Secondary outcomes included death and focal neurologic abnormalities. Subgroup analyses were performed by organism.

301 patients were randomized. At 8 weeks, 15% of dexamethasone patients compared with 25% of placebo patients had an unfavorable outcome of Glasgow Outcome Scale score 1-4 (RR 0.59, 95% CI 0.37 – 0.94, p= 0.03). Among patients with pneumococcal meningitis, 26% of dexamethasone patients compared with 52% of placebo patients had an unfavorable outcome. There was no significant difference among treatment arms within the subgroup of patients infected with meningococcal meningitis. Overall, death occurred in 7% of dexamethasone patients and 15% of placebo patients (RR 0.48, 95% CI 0.24 – 0.96, p = 0.04). In pneumococcal meningitis, 14% of dexamethasone patients died, and 34% of placebo patients died.  There was no difference in rates of focal neurologic abnormalities or hearing loss in either treatment arm (including within any subgroup).

In conclusion, early adjunctive dexamethasone improves mortality in bacterial meningitis. As noted in the above subgroup analysis, this benefit appears to be driven by the efficacy within the pneumococcal meningitis subgroup. Of note, the standard initial treatment regimen in this study was amoxicillin 2gm q4hrs for 7-10 days rather than our standard ceftriaxone + vancomycin +/- ampicillin. Largely on the basis of this study alone, the IDSA guidelines for the treatment of bacterial meningitis (2004) recommend dexamethasone 0.15 mg/kg q6hrs for 2-4 days with first dose administered 10-20 min before or concomitant with initiation of antibiotics. Dexamethasone should be continued only if CSF Gram stain, CSF culture, or blood cultures are consistent with pneumococcus.

References / Further Reading:
1. IDSA guidelines for management of bacterial meningitis (2004)
2. Wiki Journal Club
3. 2 Minute Medicine

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: CDC / Dr. Richard Facklam, US Public Domain, via Public Health Image Library

Week 4 – ARDSNet

“Ventilation with Lower Tidal Volumes as Compared with Traditional Tidal Volumes for Acute Lung Injury and the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome”

by the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Network (ARDSNet)

N Engl J Med. 2000 May 4;342(18):1301-8. [free full text]

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is an inflammatory and highly morbid lung injury found in many critically ill patients. In the 1990s, it was hypothesized that overdistention of aerated lung volumes and elevated airway pressures might contribute to the severity of ARDS, and indeed some work in animal models supported this theory. Prior to the ARDSNet study, four randomized trials had been conducted to investigate the possible protective effect of ventilation with lower tidal volumes, but their results were conflicting.

The ARDSNet study enrolled patients with ARDS (diagnosed within 36 hours) to either a lower initial tidal volume of 6ml/kg, downtitrated as necessary to maintain plateau pressure ≤ 30 cm H2O, or to the “traditional” therapy of an initial tidal volume of 12 ml/kg, downtitrated as necessary to maintain plateau pressure ≤ 50 cm of water. The primary outcomes were in-hospital mortality and ventilator-free days within the first 28 days. Secondary outcomes included number of days without organ failure, occurrence of barotrauma, and reduction in IL-6 concentration from day 0 to day 3.

861 patients were randomized before the trial was stopped early due to the increased mortality in the control arm noted during interim analysis. In-hospital mortality was 31.0% in the lower tidal volume group and 39.8% in the traditional tidal volume group (p = 0.007, NNT = 11.4). Ventilator free days were 12±11 in the lower tidal volume group vs. 10±11 in the traditional group (n = 0.007). The lower tidal volume group had more days without organ failure (15±11 vs. 12±11, p = 0.006). There was no difference in rates of barotrauma among the two groups. Decrease in IL-6 concentration between days 0 and 3 was greater in the low tidal volume group (p < 0.001), and IL-6 concentration at day 3 was lower in the low tidal volume group (p = 0.002).

In summary, low tidal volume ventilation decreases mortality in ARDS relative to “traditional” tidal volumes. The authors felt that this study confirmed the results of prior animal models and conclusively answered the question of whether or not low tidal volume ventilation provided a mortality benefit. In fact, in the years following, low tidal volume ventilation became the standard of care, and a robust body of literature followed this study to further delineate a “lung-protective strategy.” Critics of the study noted that, at the time of the study, the “traditional” (standard of care) tidal volume in ARDS was less than the 12 ml/kg used in the comparison arm. (Non-enrolled patients at the participating centers were receiving a mean tidal volume of 10.3 ml/kg.) Thus not only was the trial making a comparison to a faulty control, but it was also potentially harming patients in the control arm. An excellent summary of the ethical issues and debate regarding this specific issue and regarding control arms of RCTs in general can be found here.

Corresponding practice point from Dr. Sonti and Dr. Vinayak and their Georgetown Critical Care Top 40: “Low tidal volume ventilation is the standard of care in patients with ARDS (P/F < 300). Use ≤ 6 ml/kg predicted body weight, follow plateau pressures, and be cautious of mixed modes in which you set a tidal volume but the ventilator can adjust and choose a larger one.”

PulmCCM is an excellent blog, and they have a nice page reviewing this topic and summarizing some of the research and guidelines that have followed.

Further Reading/References:
1. ARDSNet @ Wiki Journal Club
2. ARDSNet @ 2 Minute Medicine
3. PulmCCM “Mechanical Ventilation in ARDS: Research Update”
4. Georgetown Critical Care Top 40, page 6
5. PulmCCM “In ARDS, substandard ventilator care is the norm, not the exception.” 2017.

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD