Last update: March 17, 2020
COVID-related ARDS, following a 12-24h stabilization period, with all of the following:
Prone positioning has been used safely for many years in patients with ARDS. Physiologically, prone positioning increases blood flow to better-aerated lung (improved V/Q matching), increases functional residual capacity (FRC), reduces atelectasis, distributes plateau pressure more homogenously across the lung, and facilitates secretion drainage. It is, however, associated with the potential complications of endotracheal tube (and other line and tube) dislodgement, pressure ulcers, and increased intraabdominal and intracranial pressure, and the logistics of the position complicate many routine patient care activities.
A recent randomized controlled trial of prone ventilation at experienced centers in patients with severe ARDS (P:F <150) after 12-24h of initial stabilization demonstrated a >50% reduction in 28-day mortality (33% supine vs. 16% prone), with a number needed to treat of 6 (1). Subsequent meta-analysis confirmed this mortality benefit, also noting increased risk of pressure ulcers (OR 1.49) and airway complications (OR 1.55); however, no difference in other line/tube dislodgement or in cardiac events was seen, and none of the airway complications was fatal (2). Prone ventilation has been systematically studied in trauma and surgical ICU patients specifically in two studies, although both broadly included patients with P:F ratio <300: a 40-patient prospective randomized trial showed improved P:F ratio in the prone group, but no difference in ventilator days or mortality (3); and a 61-patient retrospective study showed improved P:F ratio, fewer ventilator days, and lower overall mortality in the prone group (4). Although an early case series raised concern about surgical complications of prone positioning in the trauma population (5), this has not been systematically seen in a small retrospective study of postoperative patients, where no increase in abdominal surgical complications was seen (6).
While there is no specific high-quality evidence for prone ventilation in COVID-related ARDS, several groups’ early experience has suggested that early proning is clinically effective.
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