Background Continuous infusions of sedative drugs in the intensive care unit may prolong the duration of mechanical ventilation, prolong the length of stay in the intensive care unit and the hospital, impede efforts to perform daily neurologic examinations, and increase the need for tests to assess alterations in mental status. Whether regular interruption of such infusions might accelerate recovery is not known.
Methods We conducted a randomized, controlled trial involving 128 adult patients who were receiving mechanical ventilation and continuous infusions of sedative drugs in a medical intensive care unit. In the intervention group, the sedative infusions were interrupted until the patients were awake, on a daily basis; in the control group, the infusions were interrupted only at the discretion of the clinicians in the intensive care unit.
Results The median duration of mechanical ventilation was 4.9 days in the intervention group, as compared with 7.3 days in the control group (P=0.004), and the median length of stay in the intensive care unit was 6.4 days as compared with 9.9 days, respectively (P=0.02). Six of the patients in the intervention group (9 percent) underwent diagnostic testing to assess changes in mental status, as compared with 16 of the patients in the control group (27 percent, P=0.02). Complications (e.g., removal of the endotracheal tube by the patient) occurred in three of the patients in the intervention group (4 percent) and four of the patients in the control group (7 percent, P=0.88).Conclusions In patients who are receiving mechanical ventilation, daily interruption of sedative-drug infusions decreases the duration of mechanical ventilation and the length of stay in the intensive care unit.