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Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2003 Aug;16(4):401-7.

The anaesthesiologist in the intensive care unit.

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Department of Anaesthesia, Groote Schuur Hospital and University of Cape Town, South Africa.



This review focuses on recent knowledge in areas of anaesthesia expertise which are indispensable to intensive care unit management, including airway management, vascular access, regional analgesia and the treatment of status asthmaticus and status epilepticus.


Etomidate as the sole agent for intubation in the intensive care unit has a 90% success rate, while in a prehospital setting, the addition of succinylcholine to etomidate results in a 99% success rate. In determining successful intubation, capnography and laryngoscopic/fibreoptic visualization are superior to auscultation, while auscultation is as effective as the self-inflating bulb or transillumination with the lightwand. The dorsalis pedis artery is an effective alternative to radial artery cannulation, while arterial cannulation itself can result in major adverse effects if complications arise. Ultrasound guidance in the placement of central catheters results in an improved insertion success rate. Internal jugular and subclavian lines have similar risk of haemothorax or pneumothorax, while subclavian lines are associated with the lowest incidence of infection. Midazolam, thiopentone and propofol have all been found to be efficacious in terminating refractory status epilepticus, with thiopentone resulting in a lower incidence of breakthrough seizures or treatment failure but an increased incidence of hypotension. Inhalational anaesthesia using isoflurane or desflurane has also been found to be successful in refractory status epilepticus. In the management of status asthmaticus, limiting minute volume while tolerating hypercapnia and acidosis as well as the use of inhalational anesthesia have proven effective strategies in a number of refractory cases.


The anaesthesiologist's unique knowledge and skills are ideally suited to the practical management of patients in a critical care setting as well as in the treatment of the critical phases of many illnesses.


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