Oxygen in the critically ill: friend or foe?

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Purpose of reviewTo examine the potential harmful effects of hyperoxia and summarize the results of most recent clinical studies evaluating oxygen therapy in critically ill patients.Recent findingsExcessive oxygen supplementation may have detrimental pulmonary and systemic effects because of enhanced oxidative stress and inflammation. Hyperoxia-induced lung injury includes altered surfactant protein composition, reduced mucociliary clearance and histological damage, resulting in atelectasis, reduced lung compliance and increased risk of infections. Hyperoxemia causes vasoconstriction, reduction in coronary blood flow and cardiac output and may alter microvascular perfusion. Observational studies showed a close relationship between hyperoxemia and increased mortality in several subsets of critically ill patients. In absence of hypoxemia, the routine use of oxygen therapy in patients with myocardial infarction, stroke, traumatic brain injury, cardiac arrest and sepsis, showed no benefit but rather it seems to be harmful. In patients admitted to intensive care unit, a conservative oxygen therapy aimed to maintain arterial oxygenation within physiological range has been proved to be well tolerated and may improve outcome.SummaryLiberal O2 use and unnecessary hyperoxia may be detrimental in critically ill patients. The current evidence supports the use of a conservative strategy in O2 therapy to avoid patient exposure to unnecessary hyperoxemia.

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