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CNS Drugs. 2003;17(4):235-72.

Propofol: a review of its use in intensive care sedation of adults.

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Adis International Limited, Auckland, New Zealand.


Propofol (Diprivan) is a phenolic derivative with sedative and hypnotic properties but is unrelated to other sedative/hypnotic agents. Formulated as an oil-in-water emulsion for intravenous use, it is highly lipophilic and rapidly crosses the blood-brain barrier resulting in a rapid onset of action. Emergence from sedation is also rapid because of a fast redistribution into peripheral tissues and metabolic clearance. The depth of sedation increases in a dose-dependent manner. In well designed clinical trials in patients receiving sedation in the intensive care unit (ICU) for a variety of indications, propofol provided adequate sedation for a similar proportion of time to midazolam, but the rate of recovery was faster with propofol. Even after periods of prolonged sedation (>72 hours), propofol was generally associated with a faster time to recovery than midazolam. Propofol facilitated better predictability of recovery and an improved control of the depth of sedation in response to titration than midazolam. In patients sedated following head trauma, propofol reduced or maintained intracranial pressure. Propofol is associated with generally good haemodynamic stability but induces a dose-dependent decrease in blood pressure and heart rate. Bolus administration may cause transient hypotension, and slow initial infusions are recommended in most patients. Serum triglyceride concentrations should be monitored during prolonged infusions (>3 days) because of the risk of hypertriglyceridaemia. The administration of 2% propofol can reduce this risk. Strict aseptic technique must be used during the handling of the product to prevent accidental extrinsic microbial contamination. Despite a higher acquisition cost with propofol, most studies of short-term sedation (approximately <3 days) showed that overall costs were lower with propofol than with midazolam, because a faster time to extubation reduced total ICU costs. However, as the period of sedation increased, the cost difference decreased.


The efficacy of propofol in the sedation of adults in the ICU is well established, and clinical trials have demonstrated a similar quality of sedation to midazolam. Because of a rapid distribution and clearance, the duration of action of propofol is short and recovery is rapid. Emergence from sedation is more rapid with propofol than with midazolam, even after long-term administration (>72 hours), which enables better control of the depth of sedation in response to titration and more predictable recovery times. Thus, for the ICU sedation of adults in a variety of clinical settings, propofol provides effective sedation with a more rapid and predictable emergence time than midazolam.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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