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Prehosp Emerg Care. 2018 May 18:1-8. doi: 10.1080/10903127.2018.1469704. [Epub ahead of print]

Intravenous Low-Dose Ketamine Provides Greater Pain Control Compared to Fentanyl in a Civilian Prehospital Trauma System: A Propensity Matched Analysis.



A few studies report comparable analgesic efficacy between low-dose ketamine and opioids such as morphine or fentanyl; however, limited research has explored the safety and effectiveness of intravenous low-dose ketamine as a primary analgesic in a civilian prehospital setting. The objective of this study is to compare pain control between low-dose ketamine and fentanyl when administered intravenously (IV) for the indication of severe pain.


This was a retrospective, observational review of prehospital adult patients (≥18 years) who presented with severe pain (numeric rating scale, 7-10) and were treated solely with either low-dose ketamine IV or fentanyl IV between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2016. Propensity matched analysis was performed adjusting for all baseline variables with p ≤ 0.10 and for baseline pain score to match ketamine and fentanyl patients on a one-to-one ratio. The primary outcome was change in pain score from baseline to after treatment and evaluated with a paired t-test. Secondary outcomes were changes in vital signs and Glasgow coma scale (GCS) from baseline to after treatment, as well as incidence of clinically significant adverse events (AEs); AEs were followed from scene arrival through emergency department discharge.


Propensity matched analysis produced 79 matched pairs. Ketamine IV patients, receiving a mean (SD) dose of 0.3 (0.1) mg/kg, showed a significantly larger mean decrease in pain after treatment, compared to the fentanyl IV patients (-5.5 (3.1) vs. -2.5 (2.4), p < 0.001). A significantly greater proportion of patients receiving ketamine IV achieved at least a 50% reduction in pain compared to those receiving fentanyl IV (67% vs. 19%, p < 0.001), marking 52 ketamine IV patients as responders to treatment. Vital signs demonstrated a nonsignificant decrease in blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rate, and GCS. No clinically significant AEs were reported for patients receiving ketamine IV.


The significant reduction in pain, significantly high proportion of ketamine responders, and the lack of clinically significant AEs characterizing patients receiving low-dose ketamine IV compared to fentanyl IV, all provide further support for its use as an effective prehospital analgesic.


Level III, therapeutic.


fentanyl; intravenous; low-dose ketamine; pain control; prehospital

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