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Etomidate is an imidazole-derived hypnotic agent preferentially used for rapid sequence induction of anaesthesia because of its favourable haemodynamic profile. However, 11β-hydroxylase inhibition causes adrenal insufficiency with potentially fatal consequences in specific populations. We review the arguments against the liberal administration of etomidate in critically ill, and especially septic, patients. This review considered only high-quality and prospective studies with a low risk of bias. Three major effects have been observed with the clinical use of a single dose of etomidate. First, independent of the clinical setting, etomidate causes adrenal dysfunction via 11β-hydroxylase inhibition ranging from 12 to 48 h, making the drug unsuitable for use in elective interventions. Second, in a systematic review with meta-analyses, including 3715 septic patients, the relative risk of death with etomidate was 1.22 (95% confidence interval 1.11 to 1.35). Based on this statistically significant and clinically relevant increase in mortality, a single dose of etomidate has to be avoided in patients with septic shock. Third, in small randomised controlled trials, a single dose of etomidate in trauma patients was associated with an increased incidence of pneumonia (56.7 vs. 25.9% in controls), prolonged intensive care stay (6.3 vs. 1.5 days) and prolonged hospital stay (11.6 vs. 6.4 days). Based on these randomised controlled trials, the use of etomidate should be avoided in unstable trauma patients. Midazolam and ketamine are two valid alternatives with similar intubation and haemodynamic conditions as etomidate but without its adverse effects. Therefore, for safety reasons, etomidate should be avoided in the critical conditions of sepsis and trauma.