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Editor,—Anthony Cross highlighted the effectiveness of non-invasive ventilation (NIV) in the emergency department in his review.1 As he concluded, studies certainly indicate that this treatment is beneficial in the treatment of acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive airways disease—with regard to the need for intubation, length of hospital stay and mortality.
The evidence for the use of NIV in the treatment of acute pulmonary oedema also exists, and is stronger than Dr Cross indicated. In addition to the three randomised controlled trials comparing chronic positive airway pressure (CPAP) with standard treatment for acute pulmonary oedema identified in the review, there also exists an article by Takeda et al from Tokyo.2–5 If the results of this study are pooled with the three reviewed by Cross, the overall risk reduction for mortality becomes −13.8% (95% CI −24.2 to −3.4%). The interesting thing about this finding is that the confidence interval does not cross zero. This is the first time that pooled results have shown that CPAP treatment for heart failure, in addition to decreasing intubation rates, also decreases mortality—at least in the short-term (only two of the studies included long term follow up). There is also evidence that CPAP treatment benefits are greater in those with increasing severity of pulmonary oedema.6
There remains a need for a large prospective randomised controlled trial into the effectiveness of NIV compared with standard treatment of acute pulmonary oedema. If the results confirm the trends suggested in the available smaller studies, it should be sufficient to change our current treatment practice in UK emergency departments regarding acute pulmonary oedema. Admissions and death attributable to heart failure, unlike those attributable to ischaemic heart disease, are predicted to increase.7 CPAP has been shown to be effective in reducing the number of these patients intubated, admitted to intensive care units or dying. Personally, I believe that there already exists sufficient evidence for the acquisition and use of CPAP/BiPAP machines to treat acute pulmonary oedema in all emergency departments in the UK.