BACKGROUND: Death rattle (DR), caused by mucus in the respiratory tract, occurs in about half of patients who are in the dying phase. Relatives often experience DR as distressing. Anticholinergics are recommended to treat DR, although there is no evidence for the effect of these drugs. Anticholinergic drugs decrease the production of mucus but do not affect existing mucus. We therefore hypothesize that these drugs are more effective when given prophylactically.
METHODS: We set up a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-center study evaluating the efficacy of prophylactically given subcutaneous scopolaminebutyl for the prevention of DR in the dying phase. The primary outcome is the occurrence of DR defined as grade ≥ 2 according to the scale of Back measured by a nurse at 2 consecutive time points with an interval of 4 h. Secondary outcomes include adverse effects, quality of dying, quality of life in the last three days and bereavement. A sub-study will explore the experience of participating in a clinical trial in the dying phase from the perspective of relatives. Four hospices will include 200 patients.
DISCUSSION: This is the first double-blind placebo-controlled study to prevent DR in patients in the hospice setting. Research in dying patients is challenging. We will apply ethical and organizational strategies as suggested in the literature.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: The trial is retrospectively registered in the Dutch Trial register, identifier NTR 6438 June 2017. EudractCT number 2016-002287-14.