Etomidate Versus Pentobarbital for Sedation of Children for Head and Neck CT Imaging

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We compare etomidate to pentobarbital for sedation of children for head and neck computed tomography imaging.


We performed a prospective, randomized, double-blinded trial of patients aged 6 months to 6 years enrolled from the emergency department or radiology department at a large urban children's hospital. The primary outcome measure was sedation success rate.


A total of 61 patients were enrolled in the study (27 etomidate group, 34 pentobarbital group) at 2 different dosing regimens for etomidate. The final analysis group included 17 etomidate patients and 33 pentobarbital patients. The success rate for the etomidate group was 57% at total doses of up to 0.3 mg/kg (n = 7) and 76% at total doses of up to 0.4 mg/kg (n = 17), in contrast to a success rate of 97% for pentobarbital at a total dose of up to 5 mg/kg (n = 33). The success rate for pentobarbital was significantly greater than the final etomidate group (P = 0.04; difference in proportions 20.5%, 95% CI 1.9% to 44.4%). Patients receiving etomidate had significantly shorter induction times (P = 0.02; difference of means 2.1 minutes, 95% CI 0.35 to 3.86), sedation times (P < 0.001; difference of means 31.3 minutes, 95% CI 24.0 to 38.5), and total examination times (P < 0.001; difference of means 53.1 minutes, 95% CI 40.8 to 65.3). Significantly more parents in the etomidate group perceived their child to be back to baseline by discharge from the hospital (P < 0.001; difference of proportions 60.7, 95% CI 29.1 to 92.4) and expressed fewer concerns about their child's behavior after discharge (P = 0.024; difference of proportions 28.6, 95% CI 6.5 to 50.7).


At the dosing used in this study, pentobarbital is superior to etomidate when comparing success rates for sedation. However, among the successful sedations, the duration of sedation was shorter in the etomidate group than in the pentobarbital group. Pentobarbital is associated with more frequent side effects and parental concerns compared to etomidate.

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