Sedation breaks: are they good for the critically ill patient? A review

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Tradition has led us to believe that a heavily sedated patient is a comfortable, settled, compliant patient for whom sedation will improve outcome. The current move witnessed in clinical practice today of limiting sedation has led health care in recent years to question the benefit and necessity of routine, continuous sedation for all patients requiring mechanical ventilation. However, as a result there has been a rise in the amount of agitation being reported as being experienced by patients with the daily withdrawal of sedation.


The purpose of this paper is to review current arguments for and against perserving with agitation versus re-sedating, when it presents during the daily sedation breaks.


Of the literature reviewed, the question to re-sedate the mechanically ventilated agitated patient during sedation breaks remains an issue of contention. Although there is evidence focusing on the psychological effects of long-term sedation and sedation breaks specifically, the complex nature of critical illness in some cases means that individualized care is of paramount importance and in-depth assessment is crucial when deciding to re-sedate in the face of undetermined agitation. Agitation has been closely linked with several incidents that can be detrimental to patient safety, such as removal of lines and unplanned self-extubation.


The recommendations of this review are that nurses should re-commence sedation if the patient becomes agitated following a sedation break.

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