Reappraisal of routine oral care with chlorhexidine gluconate for patients receiving mechanical ventilation: Systematic review and meta-analysis

Michael Klompas, Kathleen Speck, Michael D. Howell, Linda R. Greene, Sean M. Berenholtz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


IMPORTANCE Regular oral care with chlorhexidine gluconate is standard of care for patients receiving mechanical ventilation in most hospitals. This policy is predicated on meta-analyses suggesting decreased risk of ventilator-associated pneumonia, but these meta-analysesmay be misleading because of lack of distinction between cardiac surgery and non-cardiac surgery studies, conflation of open-label vs double-blind investigations, and insufficient emphasis on patient-centered outcomes such as duration of mechanical ventilation, length of stay, and mortality. OBJECTIVE To evaluate the impact of routine oral care with chlorhexidine on patient-centered outcomes in patients receiving mechanical ventilation. DATA SOURCES PubMed, Embase, CINAHL, andWeb of Science from inception until July 2013 without limits on date or language. STUDY SELECTION Randomized clinical trials comparing chlorhexidine vs placebo in adults receiving mechanical ventilation. Of 171 unique citations, 16 studies including 3630 patients met inclusion criteria. DATA EXTRACTION AND SYNTHESIS Eligible trials were independently identified, evaluated for risk of bias, and extracted by 2 investigators. Differences were resolved by consensus.We stratified studies into cardiac surgery vs non-cardiac surgery and open-label vs double-blind investigations. Eligible studies were pooled using random-effects meta-analysis. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Ventilator-associated pneumonia, mortality, duration of mechanical ventilation, intensive care unit and hospital length of stay, antibiotic prescribing. RESULTS There were fewer lower respiratory tract infections in cardiac surgery patients randomized to chlorhexidine (relative risk [RR], 0.56 [95%CI, 0.41-0.77]) but no significant difference in ventilator-associated pneumonia risk in double-blind studies of non-cardiac surgery patients (RR, 0.88 [95%CI, 0.66-1.16]). There was no significant mortality difference between chlorhexidine and placebo in cardiac surgery studies (RR, 0.88 [95%CI, 0.25-2.14]) and nonsignificantly increased mortality in non-cardiac surgery studies (RR, 1.13 [95%CI, 0.99-1.29]). There were no significant differences in mean duration of mechanical ventilation or intensive care length of stay. Data on hospital length of stay and antibiotic prescribing were limited. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE Routine oral care with chlorhexidine prevents nosocomial pneumonia in cardiac surgery patients but may not decrease ventilator-associated pneumonia risk in non-cardiac surgery patients. Chlorhexidine use does not affect patient-centered outcomes in either population. Policies encouraging routine oral care with chlorhexidine for non-cardiac surgery patients merit reevaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)751-761
Number of pages11
JournalJAMA internal medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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