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In order to examine the clinical potential of desflurane (difluo-romethyl-l-fluoro-2,2,2-trifluoroethyl ether) in humans, a randomized, controlled study was designed to compare time of emergence from anesthesia in patients undergoing elective surgery under desflurane anesthesia to that of patients under isoflurane anesthesia. Twenty-eight patients were randomly divided into four groups. Group 1 received isoflurane 0.65 MAC; group 2, desflurane 0.65 MAC; group 3, isoflurane 1.25 MAC; and group 4, desflurane 1.25 MAC. Anesthesia was induced with sodium thiopental, and N2O 60% was added to the volatile agent. Mean anesthetic exposure times (min [mean ± SD]) were 108 ± 49 in group 1, 132 ± 46 in group 2, 147 ± 74 in group 3, and 166 ± 71 in group 4, with no significant differences between groups. The times from discontinuation of anesthetic gases until patients opened their eyes and squeezed the investigator's hand in response to a command were averaged and recorded as “emergence time.” Emergence time was significantly less with desflurane than with isoflurane given at the same MAC. Patients receiving isoflurane 0.65 MAC responded to commands 15.6 ± 4.3 min after discontinuation of the anesthetic; patients in the desflurane 0.65 MAC group responded in 8.8 ± 2.7 min (P < 0.01). Emergence time for isoflurane 1.25 MAC was 30.0 ± 11.0 min; for desflurane 1.25 MAC it was 16.1 ± 6.0 min (P < 0.05). Our results confirm that emergence from desflurane anesthesia is more rapid than from isoflurane.