Cardiovascular manifestations of sedatives and analgesics in the critical care unit

Jamil Darrouj, Lama Karma, Rohit Arora
American Journal of Therapeutics 2009, 16 (4): 339-53
There are numerous sedatives and analgesics used in critical care medicine today; these medications are used on critically ill patients, many of whom have heart disease, including coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure. The purpose of this review is to recognize the effects of these medications on the heart. Studies that evaluated the effects of sedatives and analgesics on normal individuals or on those with heart disease were reviewed. Current choices for sustained sedation in the critically ill include the benzodiazepines, morphine, propofol, and etomidate. Each of these medications has their particular advantages and disadvantages. Benzodiazepines provide the greatest amnesia and cardiovascular safety but they can cause significant hypotension in the hemodynamically unstable patient. Morphine provides analgesia and cardioprotective activity after ischemia, although the large observational study CRUSADE showed increased mortality rate in those patients with non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction who received morphine. Propofol is the most easily titratable drug with cardioprotective features, but its use must be accompanied with great attention to possible development of propofol infusion syndrome, which is a deadly disease, especially in patients with head injury and those with septic shock receiving vasopressors. Etomidate has a rapid onset effect and short period of action with great hemodynamic stability even in patients with shock and hypovolemia, but the incidence of adrenal insufficiency during infusion, not bolus doses, may cause deterioration in the circulatory stability. In conclusion, the sedatives and analgesics mentioned here have characteristics that give them a cardiovascular safety profile useful in critically ill patients. However, use of these drugs on an individual basis is dependent on each agent's safety and efficacy.

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