Intravenous Ketamine Infusions for Neuropathic Pain Management: A Promising Therapy in Need of Optimization

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Abstract

Intravenous ketamine infusions have been used extensively to treat often-intractable neuropathic pain conditions. Because there are many widely divergent ketamine infusion protocols described in the literature, the variation in these protocols presents a challenge for direct comparison of one protocol with another and in discerning an optimal protocol. Careful examination of the published literature suggests that ketamine infusions can be useful to treat neuropathic pain and that certain characteristics of ketamine infusions may be associated with better clinical outcomes. Increased duration of relief from neuropathic pain is associated with (1) higher total infused doses of ketamine; (2) prolonged infusion durations, although the rate of infusion does not appear to be a factor; and (3) coadministration of adjunct medications such as midazolam and/or clonidine that mitigate some of the unpleasant psychomimetic side effects. However, there are few studies designed to optimize ketamine infusion protocols by defining what an effective infusion protocol entails with regard to a respective neuropathic pain condition. Therefore, despite common clinical practice, the current state of the literature leaves the use of ketamine infusions without meaningful guidance from high-quality comparative evidence. The objectives of this topical review are to (1) analyze the available clinical evidence related to ketamine infusion protocols and (2) call for clinical studies to identify optimal ketamine infusion protocols tailored for individual neuropathic pain conditions. The Oxford Center for Evidence-Based Medicine classification for levels of evidence was used to stratify the grades of clinical recommendation for each infusion variable studied.

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