Efficacy and Safety of Early Dexmedetomidine During Noninvasive Ventilation for Patients With Acute Respiratory Failure: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study

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Successful application of noninvasive ventilation (NIV) for acute respiratory failure (ARF) requires patient cooperation and comfort. The efficacy and safety of early IV dexmedetomidine when added to protocolized, as-needed IV midazolam and fentanyl remain unclear.


Adults with ARF and within 8 h of starting NIV were randomized to receive IV dexmedetomidine (0.2 μg/kg/h titrated every 30 min to 0.7 μg/kg/h to maintain a Sedation-Agitation Scale [SAS] score of 3 to 4) or placebo in a double-blind fashion up to 72 h, until NIV was stopped for ≥ 2 h, or until intubation. Patients with agitation (SAS ≥ 5) or pain (visual analog scale ≥ 5 of 10 cm) 15 min after each dexmedetomidine and placebo increase could receive IV midazolam 0.5 to 1.0 mg or IV fentanyl 25 to 50 μg, respectively, at a minimum interval of every 3 h.


The dexmedetomidine (n = 16) and placebo (n = 17) groups were similar at baseline. Use of early dexmedetomidine did not improve NIV tolerance (score, 1 of 4; OR, 1.44; 95% CI, 0.44-4.70; P = .54) nor, vs placebo, led to a greater median (interquartile range) percent time either tolerating NIV (99% [61%-100%] vs 67% [40%-100%], P = .56) or remaining at the desired sedation level (SAS score = 3 or 4, 100% [86%-100%] vs 100% [100%-100%], P = .28], or fewer intubations (P = .79). Although use of dexmedetomidine was associated with a greater duration of NIV vs placebo (37 [16-72] vs 12 [4-22] h, P = .03), the total ventilation duration (NIV + invasive) was similar (3.3 [2-4] days vs 3.8 [2-5] days, P = .52). More patients receiving dexmedetomidine had one or more episodes of deep sedation vs placebo (SAS ≤ 2, 25% vs 0%, P = .04). Use of midazolam (P = .40) and episodes of either severe bradycardia (heart rate ≤ 50 beats/min, P = .18) or hypotension (systolic BP ≤ 90 mm Hg, P = .64) were similar.


Initiating dexmedetomidine soon after NIV initiation in patients with ARF neither improves NIV tolerance nor helps to maintain sedation at a desired goal. Randomized, multicenter trials targeting patients with initial intolerance are needed to further elucidate the role for dexmedetomidine in this population.

Trial registry:

ClinicalTrials.gov; No: NCT00871624; URL: www.clinicaltrials.gov

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