The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

Conference Proceedings

March 2002 / Volume 47 / Number 3 / Page 334

Sedation and Paralysis During Mechanical Ventilation

William E Hurford MD

Terms and Definitions
Drug Choices
      Anesthesia and Deep Sedation
      Protocol-Driven Sedation
      Summary Recommendations
Neuromuscular Blocking Drugs
      Possible Indications for Pharmacological Paralysis
      Difficulties with Neuromuscular Blockade
      Choice of Neuromuscular Blocking Drug
      Delivery of Neuromuscular Blocking Drugs
      Monitoring of Neuromuscular Function
      Reversal of Neuromuscular Blockade
Pharmacologic Intervention During End-of-Life Care
Treatment of anxiety and delirium, provision of adequate analgesia, and, when necessary, amnesia in critically ill patients is humane and may reduce the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorders. Injudicious use of sedatives and paralytics to produce a passive and motionless patient, however, may prolong weaning and length of stay in the intensive care unit. This report reviews indications and choices for pharmacologic treatment of anxiety, delirium, agitation, and provision of anesthesia in critically ill patients. The choice of pharmacologic agents is made difficult by complex or poorly understood pharmacokinetics, drug actions, and adverse effects in critically ill patients. Advantages, adverse effects, and limitations of drug treatment, including use of neuromuscular blocking drugs and use of sedatives and analgesia during the withdrawal of life-sustaining measures are reviewed.
Key words: mechanical ventilation, analgesic, opioid, anesthetic, delirium, hypnotic, sedative, neuromuscular blockade.
[Respir Care 2002;47(2):334–346]


Post-traumatic stress disorder is common in survivors of critical illness. Among acute respiratory distress syndrome patients, those recalling multiple distressing experiences during their intensive care unit (ICU) stay had the highest degree of impairment after recovery from acute illness. Treatment of anxiety and delirium, provision of adequate analgesia and, when necessary, amnesia is not only humane, but may reduce the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorders in survivors. Excessive use of sedatives and neuromuscular blocking drugs (NMBDs), however, may prolong the duration of mechanical ventilation and ICU stay. Finding an appropriate balance between relief of pain, anxiety, and discoordination during mechanical ventilation, and wakefulness and the ability to breathe spontaneously is a challenge for those caring for critically ill patients.

The entire text of this article is available in the printed version of the March 2002 RESPIRATORY CARE.

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