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Med Toxicol Adverse Drug Exp. 1989 Sep-Oct;4(5):351-68.

Adverse reactions and interactions of the neuromuscular blocking drugs.

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Department of Anaesthesia, Herlev Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Herlev, Denmark.


The adverse reactions seen following administration of neuromuscular blocking agents are mainly cardiovascular. Due to the lack of specificity for the nicotinic receptor at the neuromuscular junction, these agents may interact with receptors in autonomic ganglia and muscarinic receptors in the heart. Furthermore, muscle relaxants may have histamine-releasing properties. The cardiovascular effects vary with potency and specificity of the drug, depending mainly on the chemical structure. Pancuronium, fazadinium and especially gallamonium block cardiac muscarinic receptors, and tachycardia may be seen. Atracurium, metocurine and in particular d-tubocurarine have histamine-releasing properties and may cause flushing, hypotension and tachycardia. Vecuronium has no effect on the cardiovascular system. The effect of succinylcholine on heart rate differs between children, where bradycardia is seen, and adults in whom tachycardia may follow. However, bradycardia may occur in adults following a single dose. Succinylcholine increases plasma potassium, especially in patients with nerve damage, and arrhythmias may be observed. The neuromuscular adverse effects of succinylcholine, such as fasciculations and increased gastric and intraocular pressure, may be prevented by precurarisation. Many drugs interact with neuromuscular blocking agents and there is often a potentiation of the neuromuscular effect. This is of clinical importance in the case of antibiotics, inhalational anaesthetics, lithium and cyclosporin. Difficulty in reversing the block may occur with calcium channel blockers and polymyxin. However, some drugs, such as phenytoin, carbamazepine and lithium, may cause resistance to neuromuscular blocking agents. Furthermore, clinically important interactions exist between individual neuromuscular blocking drugs. Precurarisation with a non-depolarising drug prolongs the onset of succinylcholine, and conversely a prolonged effect of non-depolarising drugs is seen following succinylcholine. The effect of succinylcholine is markedly prolonged if the drug is administered during recovery from pancuronium blockade or following neostigmine for reversal. Succinylcholine is hydrolysed by plasma cholinesterase, and drugs which decrease the activity of this enzyme may produce a prolonged block, i.e. contraceptive pills, cyclophosphamide, echothiopate and organophosphate.

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