Sedation After Cardiac Surgery: Is One Drug Better Than Another?

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Abstract

The classic high-dose narcotic-based cardiac anesthetic has been modified to facilitate a fast-track, rapid recovery in the intensive care unit (ICU). Postoperative sedation is consequently now an essential component in recovery of the patient undergoing cardiac surgery. It must facilitate the patient’s unawareness of the environment as well as reduce the discomfort and anxiety caused by surgery, intubation, mechanical ventilation, suction, and physiotherapy. Benzodiazepines seem well suited for this role, but propofol, opioids, and dexmedetomidine are among other agents commonly used for sedation in the ICU. However, what is an ideal sedative for this application? When compared with benzodiazepine-based sedation regimens, nonbenzodiazepines have been associated with shorter duration of mechanical ventilation and ICU length of stay. Current sedation guidelines recommend avoiding benzodiazepine use in the ICU. However, there are no recommendations on which alternatives should be used. In postcardiac surgery patients, inotropes and vasoactive medications are often required because of the poor cardiac function. This makes sedation after cardiac surgery unique in comparison with the requirements for most other ICU patient populations. We reviewed the current literature to try to determine if 1 sedative regimen might be better than others; in particular, we compare outcomes of propofol and dexmedetomidine in postoperative sedation in the cardiac surgical ICU.

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