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ImportanceIt is uncertain whether invasive ventilation can use lower positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) in critically ill patients without acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).ObjectiveTo determine whether a lower PEEP strategy is noninferior to a higher PEEP strategy regarding duration of mechanical ventilation at 28 days.Design, setting, and participantsNoninferiority randomized clinical trial conducted from October 26, 2017, through December 17, 2019, in 8 intensive care units (ICUs) in the Netherlands among 980 patients without ARDS expected not to be extubated within 24 hours after start of ventilation. Final follow-up was conducted in March 2020.InterventionsParticipants were randomized to receive invasive ventilation using either lower PEEP, consisting of the lowest PEEP level between 0 and 5 cm H2O (n = 476), or higher PEEP, consisting of a PEEP level of 8 cm H2O (n = 493).Main outcomes and measuresThe primary outcome was the number of ventilator-free days at day 28, with a noninferiority margin for the difference in ventilator-free days at day 28 of -10%. Secondary outcomes included ICU and hospital lengths of stay; ICU, hospital, and 28- and 90-day mortality; development of ARDS, pneumonia, pneumothorax, severe atelectasis, severe hypoxemia, or need for rescue therapies for hypoxemia; and days with use of vasopressors or sedation.ResultsAmong 980 patients who were randomized, 969 (99%) completed the trial (median age, 66 [interquartile range {IQR}, 56-74] years; 246 [36%] women). At day 28, 476 patients in the lower PEEP group had a median of 18 ventilator-free days (IQR, 0-27 days) and 493 patients in the higher PEEP group had a median of 17 ventilator-free days (IQR, 0-27 days) (mean ratio, 1.04; 95% CI, 0.95-∞; P = .007 for noninferiority), and the lower boundary of the 95% CI was within the noninferiority margin. Occurrence of severe hypoxemia was 20.6% vs 17.6% (risk ratio, 1.17; 95% CI, 0.90-1.51; P = .99) and need for rescue strategy was 19.7% vs 14.6% (risk ratio, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.02-1.79; adjusted P = .54) in patients in the lower and higher PEEP groups, respectively. Mortality at 28 days was 38.4% vs 42.0% (hazard ratio, 0.89; 95% CI, 0.73-1.09; P = .99) in patients in the lower and higher PEEP groups, respectively. There were no statistically significant differences in other secondary outcomes.Conclusions and relevanceAmong patients in the ICU without ARDS who were expected not to be extubated within 24 hours, a lower PEEP strategy was noninferior to a higher PEEP strategy with regard to the number of ventilator-free days at day 28. These findings support the use of lower PEEP in patients without ARDS.Trial Identifier: NCT03167580.

Original publication






Publication Date





2509 - 2520


Writing Committee and Steering Committee for the RELAx Collaborative Group, Humans, Pneumothorax, Respiratory Insufficiency, Critical Illness, Oxygen, Length of Stay, Positive-Pressure Respiration, Ventilator Weaning, APACHE, Aged, Middle Aged, Intensive Care Units, Female, Male, Pneumonia, Ventilator-Associated, Kaplan-Meier Estimate