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In patients with uninjured lungs, increasing evidence indicates that tidal volume (VT) reduction improves outcomes in the intensive care unit (ICU) and in the operating room (OR). However, the degree to which this evidence has translated to clinical changes in ventilator settings for patients with uninjured lungs is unknown. To clarify whether ventilator settings have changed, we searched MEDLINE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and Web of Science for publications on invasive ventilation in ICUs or ORs, excluding those on patients <18 years of age or those with >25% of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Our primary end point was temporal change in VT over time. Secondary end points were changes in maximum airway pressure, mean airway pressure, positive end-expiratory pressure, inspiratory oxygen fraction, development of ARDS (ICU studies only), and postoperative pulmonary complications (OR studies only) determined using correlation analysis and linear regression. We identified 96 ICU and 96 OR studies comprising 130,316 patients from 1975 to 2014 and observed that in the ICU, VT size decreased annually by 0.16 mL/kg (-0.19 to -0.12 mL/kg) (P < .001), while positive end-expiratory pressure increased by an average of 0.1 mbar/y (0.02-0.17 mbar/y) (P = .017). In the OR, VT size decreased by 0.09 mL/kg per year (-0.14 to -0.04 mL/kg per year) (P < .001). The change in VTs leveled off in 1995. Other intraoperative ventilator settings did not change in the study period. Incidences of ARDS (ICU studies) and postoperative pulmonary complications (OR studies) also did not change over time. We found that, during a 39-year period, from 1975 to 2014, VTs in clinical studies on mechanical ventilation have decreased significantly in the ICU and in the OR.

Original publication




Journal article


Anesth Analg

Publication Date





129 - 140


Humans, Incidence, Lung, Respiration, Artificial, Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Risk Factors, Tidal Volume, Time Factors, Ventilator-Induced Lung Injury, Ventilators, Mechanical