Risk Factors for Adverse Events in Emergency Department Procedural Sedation for Children

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Procedural sedation for children undergoing painful procedures is standard practice in emergency departments worldwide. Previous studies of emergency department sedation are limited by their single-center design and are underpowered to identify risk factors for serious adverse events (SAEs), thereby limiting their influence on sedation practice and patient outcomes.


To examine the incidence and risk factors associated with sedation-related SAEs.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This prospective, multicenter, observational cohort study was conducted in 6 pediatric emergency departments in Canada between July 10, 2010, and February 28, 2015.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Children 18 years or younger who received sedation for a painful emergency department procedure were enrolled in the study. Of the 9657 patients eligible for inclusion, 6760 (70.0%) were enrolled and 6295 (65.1%) were included in the final analysis.


The primary risk factor was receipt of sedation medication. The secondary risk factors were demographic characteristics, preprocedural medications and fasting status, current or underlying health risks, and procedure type.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Four outcomes were examined: SAEs, significant interventions performed in response to an adverse event, oxygen desaturation, and vomiting.


Of the 6295 children included in this study, 4190 (66.6%) were male and the mean (SD) age was 8.0 (4.6) years. Adverse events occurred in 736 patients (11.7%; 95% CI, 6.4%-16.9%). Oxygen desaturation (353 patients [5.6%]) and vomiting (328 [5.2%]) were the most common of these adverse events. There were 69 SAEs (1.1%; 95% CI, 0.5%-1.7%), and 86 patients (1.4%; 95% CI, 0.7%-2.1%) had a significant intervention. Use of ketamine hydrochloride alone resulted in the lowest incidence of SAEs (17 [0.4%]) and significant interventions (37 [0.9%]). The incidence of adverse sedation outcomes varied significantly with the type of sedation medication. Compared with ketamine alone, propofol alone (3.7%; odds ratio [OR], 5.6; 95% CI, 2.3-13.1) and the combinations of ketamine and fentanyl citrate (3.2%; OR, 6.5; 95% CI, 2.5-15.2) and ketamine and propofol (2.1%; OR, 4.4; 95% CI, 2.3-8.7) had the highest incidence of SAEs. The combinations of ketamine and fentanyl (4.1%; OR, 4.0; 95% CI, 1.8-8.1) and ketamine and propofol (2.5%; OR, 2.2; 95% CI, 1.2-3.8) had the highest incidence of significant interventions.

Conclusions and Relevance

The incidence of adverse sedation outcomes varied significantly with type of sedation medication. Use of ketamine only was associated with the best outcomes, resulting in significantly fewer SAEs and interventions than ketamine combined with propofol or fentanyl.

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