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Airway management in unconscious non-trauma patients


Background Tracheal intubation is recommended in unconscious trauma patients to protect the airway from pulmonary aspiration of gastric contents and also to ensure ventilation and oxygenation. Unconsciousness is often defined as a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score below 9. In non-trauma patients, however, there are no such firm recommendations regarding airway management and the GCS score may be less useful. The aim of this study was to describe the authors' experience with airway management in unconscious non-trauma patients in the prehospital setting with a physician-manned Mobile Emergency Care Unit (MECU). The main focus of the study was on the need for subsequent tracheal intubation during hospitalisation after initial treatment.

Methods The study was based on an analysis of data prospectively collected from the MECU database in Copenhagen, Denmark. All unconscious (GCS scores below 9) non-trauma patients registered in the database during 2006 were included. The ambulance patient charts and medical records were scrutinised to assess outcome and the need for tracheal intubation during the first 24 h after admittance into hospital.

Results A total of 557 unconscious non-trauma patients were examined and 129 patients (23%) were tracheally intubated by the MECU physician before or during transport to the hospital. Intubation was done in most patients with cardiac arrest, severe stroke or respiratory failure. Of the remaining 428 patients, 364 (85%) regained consciousness before being transported to the hospital, whereas 64 patients remained unconscious during transport and 12 (19%) of these were intubated in the emergency department.

Conclusions The majority of unconscious non-trauma patients were not intubated in the prehospital setting. Unconscious non-trauma patients may not all need tracheal intubation before being transferred to hospital.

  • Acute medicine—other
  • acute myocardial infarction
  • emergency department

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