Use of ketamine for prehospital pain control on the battlefield: A systematic review

Gaël de Rocquigny, Christophe Dubecq, Thibault Martinez, John Peffer, Amandine Cauet, Stéphane Travers, Pierre Pasquier
Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 2020, 88 (1): 180-185

BACKGROUND: Intravenous ketamine is commonly used for pain management in the civilian prehospital setting. Several studies have evaluated its effectiveness in the military setting. To date, there has been no report reviewing the published data on the use of ketamine in this context. The objective of this systematic review was to analyze the content and quality of published data on the use of ketamine for prehospital pain management in military trauma.

METHODS: The MEDLINE database was searched for studies on ketamine use in combat prehospital settings, at point of injury or during evacuation, published between 2000 and 2019. The systematic review was conducted following PRISMA guidelines, and the protocol was registered on PROSPERO (CRD42019115728). Civilian reports and case series lacking systematic data collection were excluded.

RESULTS: Eight studies were included with 2029 casualties receiving ketamine. All but one were American reports from Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. Studies implied retrospective cohorts or prospective observational analysis. Ketamine use rose from 3.9% during the period preceding its addition to the Tactical Combat Casualty Care guidelines in 2012 to 19.8% thereafter. It was the most common analgesic administered (up to 52% of casualties) in one of the studies. Ketamine was more likely given during tactical medical evacuation when no analgesic was provided at the point of injury. The median total intravenous dose was 50 mg. Pain intensity decreased from moderate or severe to mild or none, sometimes after only one dose. In one study, ketamine administration during tactical evacuation was associated with increased systolic blood pressure as opposed to morphine. Incoherent speech, extremity movements, and hallucinations were the main adverse events reported.

CONCLUSION: Published data on ketamine use in military trauma are rare and heterogeneous. Though, all studies tend to strengthen the belief in the efficacy and safety of ketamine when given at 50-mg to 100-mg intravenous for prehospital analgesia in combat casualties.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Systematic Review, Level IV.

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