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Death after percutaneous dilatational tracheostomy: a systematic review and analysis of risk factors

Marcel Simon1, Maria Metschke1, Stephan A Braune1, Klaus Püschel2 and Stefan Kluge1*

  • * Corresponding author: Stefan Kluge

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Intensive Care Medicine, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistr 52, 20246 Hamburg, Germany

2 Department of Forensic Medicine, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany

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Critical Care 2013, 17:R258  doi:10.1186/cc13085

Please see related letter by Rajendran and Hutchinson:

Published: 29 October 2013



Since the introduction and widespread acceptance of percutaneous techniques in the intensive care unit (ICU) setting, the number of critically ill patients undergoing tracheostomy has steadily increased. However, this procedure can be associated with major complications, including death. The purpose of this study is to estimate the incidence and analyze the causes of lethal complications due to percutaneous dilatational tracheostomy (PDT).


We analyzed cases of lethal outcome due to complications from PDT including cases published between 1985 and April 2013. A systematic literature search was performed and unpublished cases from our own departmental records were retrospectively analyzed.


A total of 71 cases of lethal outcome following PDT were identified including 68 published cases and 3 of our own patients. The incidence of lethal complications was calculated to be 0.17%. Of the fatal complications, 31.0% occurred during the procedure and 49.3% within seven days of the procedure. The main causes of death were: hemorrhage (38.0%), airway complications (29.6%), tracheal perforation (15.5%), and pneumothorax (5.6%). We found specific risk factors for complications in 73.2% of patients, 25.4% of patients had more than one risk factor. Bronchoscopic guidance was used in only 46.5% of cases.


According to this analysis, PDT-related death occurs in 1 out of 600 patients receiving a PDT. Careful patient selection, bronchoscopic guidance, and securing the tracheal cannula with sutures are likely to reduce complication rates.