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Cricoid Pressure – First Do No Harm

September 6, 2019

Written by Clay Smith

Spoon Feed
The evidence does not support routine use of cricoid pressure (CP) to prevent pulmonary aspiration during intubation.

Why does this matter?
Sellick proposed CP in a case series of 26 patients considered at risk for aspiration but had no control group. In fact, CP may be biomechanically impossible. There is also little compelling evidence that it is effective. IRIS found that sham vs real cricoid pressure was identical in terms of pulmonary aspiration (0.5% without; 0.6% with) and slightly increased time to intubation. In light of this controversy being reignited, the authors set out to compile the known evidence.

Under pressure…

Anatomy controversy

Aspiration is bad

  • Aspiration of gastric contents may be lethal.

  • The authors argue it should be defined as, “bilious secretions or particulate material in the tracheobronchial tree or a new infiltrate on a chest roentgenogram,” producing clinical effects, such as hypoxia rather than defined as micro-aspiration by pepsin-A measurement.

Airway management effects

Appropriate application

  • If done, it should be posterior pressure on the anterior cricoid with two fingers, 30N of force. It may be biomechanically impossible, as laryngoscopy provides direct counterforce.

  • Most agree it should be performed in pregnant women. Most agree it should not be used in known unstable c-spine fracture.


International views


  • There is little solid evidence for using CP. The RCT we have indicates it does not reduce aspiration.

  • “Using the best currently available techniques, the incidence of pulmonary aspiration is not zero. This fact should be universal knowledge and should be well explained in medico-legal situations.”

  • In my practice, I have largely abandoned use of CP. It doesn’t reduce aspiration and makes a difficult airway even more difficult. Why would I want to do that?

Another Spoonful
Don’t miss Dr. John Hinds delivering a brilliant demolition of cricoid pressure in airway management, at smaccGOLD. Thanks, Aaron!

The Clinical Use of Cricoid Pressure: First, Do No Harm. Anesth Analg. 2019 Aug 6. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000004360. [Epub ahead of print]

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Reviewed by Thomas Davis

What are your thoughts?