Subglottic Suctioning Prevents Harm in the Long-Term Intubated Patient – So Do it!

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Microbiologically confirmed ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) or ventilator-associated conditions (VAC, e.g. worsening oxygenation) in intubated patients remains a major concern in ICU’s. VAP is defined as a hospital-acquired pneumonia which develops within 48-72 hours after endotracheal intubation.
To prevent this complication ICU’s uniformly have adapted the VAP-bundle, a bunch of measures aiming to prevent ventilator-associated pneumonia. Unfortunately the evidence of the VAP-bundle is not as robust as one might think it is. Here’s the evidence of some elements of the VAP bundle:

– Elevation of the head to bed 45° (low evidence)
– Daily sedation interruptions (the impact on reducing VAP has not been shown so far)
– Daily oral chlorhexidine rinses (low evidence)

… it’s most likely the combination of measures that is of benefit to the patient… hopefully! But hold on, there is another intervention that finally brings quite some evidence with it!

Active suctioning of the subglottic area, where nasal-oral secretions gather and create a rich culture medium for all sorts of micro-organisms, also aims to reduce the incidence of VAP. In contrast to the classical VAP-bundle the evidence here is strongly in favour for these devices!
In 2005 four registrars in cardiothoracic surgery looked into this topic and summarised their efforts online on Best Evidence Topics, best bets.org. In this blog they review 13 relevant articles on the use of subglottic suctioning and conclude: subglottic suction significantly reduces the incidence of VAP in high risk patients – which means a NNT of 8 if ventilated for more than 3 days. They also mention that this measure is cost effective, despite the more expensive tubes.

In the same year Dezfulian et al. presented a systematic meta-analysis of randomized trials in the American Journal of Medicine. They ended up with 5 studies including 869 patients. They also came to the conclusion that subglottic secretion drainage is effective in preventing VAP in patients expected to be ventilated for more than 72 hours.

In 2011 Hallais et al. looked into the issue of cost-effectiveness with a cost-benefit analysis. Even when assuming the most pessimistic scenario of VAP incidence and costs the replacement of conventional ventilation with continuous subglottic suctioning would still be cost-effective.

In 2011 Muscedere et al. published an ‘official’ review article in Critical Care Medicine and also ended up with 13 randomised clinical trial, most of them the same ‘BestBETs’ had already identified 6 years before. It is therefore not surprising to see that they also found a highly significant reduction in VAP. They were also able to demonstrate a reduction in ICU length of stay and duration of mechanical ventilation, although the strength of this association was weakened by heterogeneity of study results.

We finally would like to mention the latest randomised controlled trial on this topic which was published in Critical Care Medicine this January 2015. Damas et al. randomly assigned 352 patients to either receive subglottic suctioning or not. Again sublottic suctioning significantly reduced VAP prevalence and therefore also antibiotic use.

At least we have identified one area in critical care where an impressive pile of evidence supporting the use of subglottic suctioning in long-term intubated patients is present… and even better: cost-effective analyses also come out in great favour for this measure!

Take-home message: Subglottic suctioning does prevent VAP in patients likely to be ventilated more than (48-) 72 hours and should be used in these situations.
Review BestBETs 2005

Dezfulian C et al. Am J Med. 2005 Jan;118(1):11-8

Hallais C. et al. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2011 Feb;32(2):131-5

Muscedere J et al. Crit Care Med. 2011 Vol. 39, No. 8

Damas P et al. Crit Care Med. 2015 Jan;43(1):22-30

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