Factors Associated with Early Withdrawal of Life-Sustaining Treatments After Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest: A Subanalysis of a Randomized Trial of Prehospital Therapeutic Hypothermia

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BACKGROUND: The objective of this study is to describe incidence and factors associated with early withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies based on presumed poor neurologic prognosis (WLST-N) and practices around multimodal prognostication after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA). METHODS: We performed a subanalysis of a randomized controlled trial assessing prehospital therapeutic hypothermia in adult patients admitted to nine hospitals in King County with nontraumatic OHCA between 2007 and 2012. Patients who underwent tracheal intubation and were unconscious following return of spontaneous circulation were included. Our outcomes were (1) incidence of early WLST-N (WLST-N within < 72 h from return of spontaneous circulation), (2) factors associated with early WLST-N compared with patients who remained comatose at 72 h without WLST-N, (3) institutional variation in early WLST-N, (4) use of multimodal prognostication, and (5) use of sedative medications in patients with early WLST-N. Analysis included descriptive statistics and multivariable logistic regression. RESULTS: We included 1,040 patients (mean age was 65 years, 37% were female, 41% were White, and 44% presented with arrest due to ventricular fibrillation) admitted to nine hospitals. Early WLST-N accounted for 24% (n = 154) of patient deaths and occurred in half (51%) of patients with WLST-N. Factors associated with early WLST-N in multivariate regressions were older age (odds ratio [OR] 1.02, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.01-1.03), preexisting do-not-attempt-resuscitation orders (OR 4.67, 95% CI: 1.55-14.01), bilateral absent pupillary reflexes (OR 2.4, 95% CI: 1.42-4.10), and lack of neurological consultation (OR 2.60, 95% CI: 1.52-4.46). The proportion of patients with early WLST-N among all OHCA admissions ranged from 19-60% between institutions. A head computed tomography scan was obtained in 54% (n = 84) of patients with early WLST-N; 22% (n = 34) and 5% (n = 8) underwent ≥ 1 and ≥ 2 additional prognostic tests, respectively. Prognostic tests were more frequently performed when neurological consultation occurred. Most patients received sedating medications (90%) within 24 h before early WLST-N; the median time from last sedation to early WLST-N was 4.2 h (interquartile range 0.4-15). CONCLUSIONS: Nearly one quarter of deaths after OHCA were due to early WLST-N. The presence of concerning neurological examination findings appeared to impact early WLST-N decisions, even though these are not fully reliable in this time frame. Lack of neurological consultation was associated with early WLST-N and resulted in underuse of guideline-concordant multimodal prognostication. Sedating medications were often coadministered prior to early WLST-N and may have further confounded the neurological examination. Standardizing prognostication, restricting early WLST-N, and a multidisciplinary approach including neurological consultation might improve outcomes after OHCA.

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Adult; Humans; Female; Aged; Male; Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest (therapy, complications); Coma (etiology); Prognosis; Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (adverse effects); Hypothermia, Induced (methods); Emergency Medical Services

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Neurocritical care







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