Clinical tests for confirming tracheal intubation or excluding oesophageal intubation: a diagnostic test accuracy systematic review and meta-analysis

J Hansel, J A Law, N Chrimes, A Higgs, T M Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Unrecognised oesophageal intubation causes preventable serious harm to patients undergoing tracheal intubation. When capnography is unavailable or doubted, clinicians still use clinical findings to confirm tracheal intubation, or exclude oesophageal intubation, and false reassurance from clinical examination is a recurring theme in fatal cases of unrecognised oesophageal intubation. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of the diagnostic accuracy of five clinical examination tests and the oesophageal detector device when used to confirm tracheal intubation. We searched four databases for studies reporting index clinical tests against a reference standard, from inception to 28 February 2023. We included 49 studies involving 10,654 participants. Methodological quality was overall moderate to high. We looked at misting (three studies, 115 participants); lung auscultation (three studies, 217 participants); combined lung and epigastric auscultation (four studies, 506 participants); the oesophageal detector device (25 studies, 3024 participants); 'hang-up' (two non-human studies); and chest rise (one non-human study). The reference standards used were capnography (22 studies); direct vision (10 studies); and bronchoscopy (three studies). When used to confirm tracheal intubation, misting has a false positive rate (95%CI) of 0.69 (0.43-0.87); lung auscultation 0.14 (0.08-0.23); five-point auscultation 0.18 (0.08-0.36); and the oesophageal detector device 0.05 (0.02-0.09). Tests to exclude events that invariably lead to severe damage or death must have a negligible false positive rate. Misting or auscultation have too high a false positive rate to reliably exclude oesophageal intubation and there is insufficient evidence to support the use of 'hang-up' or chest rise. The oesophageal detector device may be considered where other more reliable means are not available, though waveform capnography remains the reference standard for confirmation of tracheal intubation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1020-1030
Number of pages11
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal/adverse effects
  • Auscultation
  • Esophagus
  • Capnography
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine


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