Teamwork with Patient seriously injured in the ICU. The doctor and nurse.

Early tracheostomy versus Prolonged Endotracheal Intubation in Severe Head Injury


Bouderka et al. J Trauma: Injury, Infection & Critical Care 2004;57(2): 251-254. doi: 10.1097/01.TA.0000087646.68382.9A

Clinical Question

  • Does early tracheostomy reduce duration of mechanical ventilation and mortality in comparison with prolonged intubation in patients with head injury?


  • Randomised Controlled Trial
  • Non-blinded
  • With estimated reduction in duration of ventilation from intervention of 25%, alpha of 0.05, 34 patients would give the study 80% power


  • Single ICU, Morocco


  • Isolated severe head injury, with admission GCS <9, and GCS <8 without sedation on day 5
  • 62 patients randomised


  • Early tracheostomy (Day 5/6) performed by critical care physician


  • Prolonged endotracheal intubation


  • Comparing early tracheostomy vs. prolonged endotracheal intubation
    • Primary outcome: length of mechanical ventilation (days)
      • 14.5 ±7.3 vs. 17.5 ±10.6, P=0.02
    • Secondary Outcomes
      • Mortality: 38.7% vs. 22.5%, P=0.27
      • Nosocomial pneumonia: 58% vs. 61.3%, P=0.79


Authors’ Conclusion

  • Early tracheostomy decreased the length of mechanical ventilation but not mortality


  • Appropriate inclusion criteria with homogenous population
  • Randomised
  • Appropriate power calculation


  • 150 patients with severe head injury had been admitted to the ICU but only 62 randomised. Only reported exclusion criteria for 6 patients.
  • Non-blinded. (Impractical to blind treating clinicians but could have blinded staff analysing the data)
  • The statistics for the primary outcome are questionable. With only a small number of patients, a small difference found between treatment groups and a large range for the duration of ventilation, a P value of 0.02 is questionable. The author of the study was contacted for further information so that we could verify the statistics. Unfortunately this was not possible as the original data has now been lost.

The Bottom Line

  • This small study found no convincing benefit from early tracheostomy when compared to prolonged endotracheal ventilation in patients with severe head injury. Further larger studies are required.
  • Critical appraisal of trials is paramount – don’t just read the abstract and conclusions of trials!

External Links


Summary author: David Slessor @davidslessor
Summary date: 1 May 2014
Peer-review editor: @DuncanChambler

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