BACKGROUND The benefits of early continuous neuromuscular blockade in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) who are receiving mechanical ventilation remain unclear. METHODS We randomly assigned patients with moderate-to-severe ARDS (defined by a ratio of the partial pressure of arterial oxygen to the fraction of inspired oxygen of <150 mm Hg with a positive end-expiratory pressure [PEEP] of ≥8 cm of water) to a 48-hour continuous infusion of cisatracurium with concomitant deep sedation (intervention group) or to a usual-care approach without routine neuromuscular blockade and with lighter sedation targets (control group). The same mechanical-ventilation strategies were used in both groups, including a strategy involving a high PEEP. The primary end point was in-hospital death from any cause at 90 days. RESULTS The trial was stopped at the second interim analysis for futility. We enrolled 1006 patients early after the onset of moderate-to-severe ARDS (median, 7.6 hours after onset). During the first 48 hours after randomization, 488 of the 501 patients (97.4%) in the intervention group started a continuous infusion of cisatracurium (median duration of infusion, 47.8 hours; median dose, 1807 mg), and 86 of the 505 patients (17.0%) in the control group received a neuromuscular blocking agent (median dose, 38 mg). At 90 days, 213 patients (42.5%) in the intervention group and 216 (42.8%) in the control group had died before hospital discharge (between-group difference, −0.3 percentage points; 95% confidence interval, −6.4 to 5.9; P=0.93). While in the hospital, patients in the intervention group were less physically active and had more adverse cardiovascular events than patients in the control group. There were no consistent between-group differences in end points assessed at 3, 6, and 12 months. CONCLUSIONS Among patients with moderate-to-severe ARDS who were treated with a strategy involving a high PEEP, there was no significant difference in mortality at 90 days between patients who received an early and continuous cisatracurium infusion and those who were treated with a usual-care approach with lighter sedation targets.
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