Use of propofol and other nonbenzodiazepine sedatives in the intensive care unit

G Angelini, J T Ketzler, D B Coursin
Critical Care Clinics 2001, 17 (4): 863-80
Sedatives continue to be used on a routine basis in critically ill patients. Although many agents are available and some approach an ideal, none are perfect. Patients require continuous reassessment of their pain and need for sedation. Pathophysiologic abnormalities that cause agitation, confusion, or delirium must be identified and treated before unilateral administration of potent sedative agents that may mask potentially lethal insufficiencies. The routine use of standardized and validated sedation scales and monitors is needed. It is hoped that reliable objective monitors of patients' level of consciousness and comfort will be forthcoming. Each sedative agent discussed in this article seems to have a place in the ICU pharmacologic armamentarium to ensure the safe and comfortable delivery of care. Etomidate is an attractive agent for short-term use to provide the rapid onset and offset of sedation in critically ill patients who are at risk for hemodynamic instability but seem to need sedation or anesthesia to perform a procedure or manipulate the airway. Ketamine administered through intramuscular injection or intravenous infusion provides quick, intense analgesia and anesthesia and allows patients to tolerate limited but painful procedures. The risk/benefit ratio associated with the use of this neuroleptic agent must be weighed carefully. Ketamine is contraindicated in patients who lack normal intracranial compliance or who have significant myocardial ischemia. Barbiturates are reserved mainly to induce coma in patients at risk for severe CNS ischemia, which frequently is associated with refractory intracranial hypertension, or in patients with status epilepticus. When administered in high doses, these drugs have prolonged sedative and depressant effects. Judicious hemodynamic monitoring is required when barbiturate coma is induced. Haloperidol is indicated in the treatment of delirium. Patients should be monitored for extrapyramidal side effects and, when they require higher doses, for potential electrocardiographic prolongation of the QT interval. Dexmedetomidine may evolve into an agent with qualities comparable with midazolam and propofol, and it may even become a drug of choice in select patients. Further study is required, however. Propofol has many of the qualities of an ideal sedative agent. Benzodiazepines and narcotics often are used in concert with propofol to provide reliable amnesia and to relieve pain, respectively. Propofol frequently causes hypotension when administered as a bolus or infusion, particularly in patients with limited cardiac reserve or hypovolemia. More data must be obtained to identify potential deleterious effects of hypertriglyceridemia, and further evaluation of the potential benefits in certain patient populations, such as neurosurgical patients, is needed.

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