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Emerg Med J. 2003 Jul;20(4):339-46.

Pharmacological management of agitation in emergency settings.

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Dokuz Eylul Medical School, Department of Psychiatry, Izmir, Turkey.



To review, firstly, published studies comparing classic antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and/or combination of both; and secondly, available data on the use of atypical antipsychotic medications in controlling agitation and aggressive behaviour seen in psychiatric patients in emergency.


In the first review, studies comparing antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and combination of both; and in the second review, efficacy trials of atypical antipsychotics that include an active and/or inactive comparator for the treatment of acute agitation were identified and reviewed. Data from clinical trials meeting the inclusion criteria were summarised by recording improvement rates, definition of improvement, and timing of defined improvement for individual studies.


In the first review, 11 trials were identified meeting the inclusion criteria, eight with a blind design. The total number of subjects was 701. These studies taken together suggest that combination treatment may be superior to the either agent alone with higher improvement rates and lower incidence of extrapyramidal side effects. In the review of atypical antipsychotic agents as acute antiagitation compounds, five studies were identified, three with a blind design. The total number of subjects was 711, of which 15% (104) was assigned to the placebo arm. This review found atypical antipsychotics to be as effective as the classic ones and more advantageous in many aspects.


Atypical antipsychotics such as risperidone, ziprasidone, and olanzapine with or without benzodiazepines should be considered first in the treatment of acute agitation. If these agents are not available the combination of a classic antipsychotic and a benzodiazepine would be a reasonable alternative. An oral treatment should always be offered first for building up an alliance with the patient and suggesting an internal rather than external locus of control.

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