BACKGROUND: Tracheotomy is one of the most frequently performed surgical procedures in the critically ill patient. It is frequently performed as an elective therapeutic procedure and only rarely as an emergency procedure. Complications occur in 5% to 40% of tracheotomies depending on study design, patient follow-up, and the definition of the different complications. The mortality rate of tracheotomy is less than 2%. Numerous studies demonstrate a greater complication and mortality rate in emergency situations, in severely ill patients, and in small children. METHODS: A retrospective study of 1130 consecutive tracheotomies performed during 1 decade (January 1987 through December 1996) is presented. We studied the indications for surgery, the major complications of tracheotomy, and their treatment and outcome. We also noted the overall mortality rate and the specific complications that led to these deaths. RESULTS: In total, 1130 tracheotomies were performed. Major complications occurred in 49 of the cases, and 8 deaths were directly attributed to the tracheotomy. The most common complication was tracheal stenosis, which occurred in 21 cases. Hemorrhage was the second most common complication, which occurred in 9 cases. CONCLUSION: This is one of the largest series of consecutive tracheotomies compiled. We found a relatively low overall complication and mortality rate compared with other large series. Tracheal stenosis was the most common complication in contrast to other series. Our opinion is that this may reflect tracheal damage originally caused by prolonged intubation before the tracheotomy. We believe that all other complications of tracheotomy may be prevented or minimized by careful surgical technique and postoperative tracheotomy care.
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