Severe exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: management with noninvasive ventilation on a general medicine ward

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Sirio Fiorino *
Eugenio Detotto
Michele Battilana
Letizia Bacchi-Reggiani
Renzo Moretti
Furio Benfenati
Adriana Caselli
Serena Marchi
Maria R. Testi
Claudio G. Gallo
Andrea Cuppini
Giuseppe Kindt
Maurizio Moretti
(*) Corresponding Author:
Sirio Fiorino |


Introduction: Recent evidence suggests that, with a well-trained staff, severe exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with moderate respiratory acidosis (pH > 7.3) can be successfully treated with noninvasive mechanical ventilation (NIMV) on a general respiratory care ward. We conducted an open prospective study to evaluate the efficacy of this approach on a general medicine ward.
Material and methods: This study population consisted in 27 patients admitted to a general medicine ward (median nurse:patient ratio 1:12) December 1, 2004 May 31, 2006 for acute COPD exacerbation with hypercapnic respiratory failure and acidosis (arterial pH < 7.34, PaC02 > 45 mmHg). All received assist-mode NIMV (average 12 h / day) via oronasal masks (inspiratory pressure 10-25 cm H2O, expiratory pressure 4-6 cm H2O) to maintain O2 saturation at 90-95%. Treatment was supervised by an experienced pulmonologist, who had also provided specific training in NIMV for medical and nursing staffs (90-day course followed by periodic refresher sessions). Arterial blood pressure, O2 saturation, and respiratory rate were continuously monitored during NIMV. Based on baseline arterial pH, the COPD was classified as moderate (7.25-7.34) or severe (< 7.25).
Results: In patients with moderate and severe COPD, significant improvements were seen in arterial pH after 2 (p < 0.05) and 24 h (p< 0.05) of NIMV and in the PaC02 after 24 hours (p < 0.05). Four (15%) of the 27 patients died during the study hospitalization (in-hospital mortality 15%), in 2 cases due to NIMV failure. For the other 23, mean long-term survival was 14.5 months (95% CI 10.2 to 18.8), and no significant differences were found between the moderate and severe groups. Over half (61%) the patients were alive 1 year after admission.
Conclusions: NIMV can be a cost-effective option for management of moderate or severe COPD on a general medicine ward. Its proper use requires: close monitoring of ventilated subjects, optimum staff:patient ratio, well-trained staff dedicated to NIMV, and supervision by a pulmonologist with experience in NIMV. The treatment was effective at improving arterial blood gases in both groups of COPD patients. The severity of the COPD did not significantly affect length of hospital stay, in-hospital mortality, or long-term survival.

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