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Muscle relaxants in critical illness 

Muscle relaxants in critical illness
Muscle relaxants in critical illness

Brian J. Pollard

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date: 03 July 2022

The place of neuromuscular blocking agents in the intensive care unit (ICU) has changed markedly over the last 20 years. Originally regarded as a mainstay of the process of ‘sedation’, they are now only used for specific indications. The principal disadvantage is probably the difficulty in neurological assessment when a muscle relaxant is used coupled with the increased risk of awareness, because inadequate sedation will be masked. Of the available agents, the intermediate acting ones are the most popular. The degree of relaxation can be readily controlled and they have few side effects. In the presence of renal and/or hepatic disease atracurium or cisatracurium are preferred. Succinylcholine is only used for securing the airway due to its very rapid onset of action. Rocuronium given in a higher dose also possesses a rapid onset in situations when succinylcholine might be contraindicated. When using a muscle relaxant, its effect should always be monitored with a simple train of four pattern of stimulation from a hand-held nerve stimulator. This will ensure that an adequate and not excessive block is secured. If a more rapid reversal is required then a dose of neostigmine with glycopyrrolate may be used. Alternatively, if rocuronium is the relaxant in use then the new agent sugammadex is effective.

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