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Anaesth Intensive Care. 2010 Jan;38(1):82-90.

The effect of dexmedetomidine on agitation during weaning of mechanical ventilation in critically ill patients.

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Acute Care Program, Intensive Care Department, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Ventilated patients receiving opioids and/or benzodiazepines are at high risk of developing agitation, particularly upon weaning towards extubation. This is often associated with an increased intubation time and length of stay in the intensive care unit and may cause long-term morbidity. Anxiety, fear and agitation are amongst the most common non-pulmonary causes of failure to liberate from mechanical ventilation. This prospective, open-label observational study examined 28 ventilated adult patients in the intensive care unit (30 episodes) requiring opioids and/or sedatives for >24 hours, who developed agitation and/or delirium upon weaning from sedation and failed to achieve successful extubation with conventional management. Patients were ventilated for a median (interquartile range) of 115 [87 to 263] hours prior to enrolment. Dexmedetomidine infusion was commenced at 0.4 microg/kg/hour for two hours, after which concurrent sedative therapy was preferentially weaned and titrated to obtain target Motor Activity Assessment Score score of 2 to 4. The median (range) maximum dose and infusion time of dexmedetomidine was 0.7 microg/kg/hour (0.4 to 1.0) and 62 hours (24 to 252) respectively. The number of episodes at target Motor Activity Assessment Score score at zero, six and 12 hours after commencement of dexmedetomidine were 7/30 (23.3%), 28/30 (93.3%) and 26/30 (86.7%), respectively (P < 0.001 for 6 and 12 vs. 0 hours). Excluding unrelated clinical deterioration, 22 episodes (73.3%) achieved successful weaning from ventilation with a median (interquartile range) ventilation time of 70 (28 to 96) hours after dexmedetomidine infusion. Dexmedetomidine achieved rapid resolution of agitation and facilitated ventilatory weaning after failure of conventional therapy. Its role as first-line therapy in ventilated, agitated patients warrants further investigation.

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