Ketamine for the Agitated/Violent Patient

Ketamine for the Agitated/Violent Patient

By Alex Koyfman MD, expert input by Reuben Strayer MD
Edited by Stephen Alerhand MD

ketamine face

 Your next 3 patients…
#1: 20yo M brought in by 6 police officers for aggressive behavior
#2: 36yo F BIBEMS for magical thinking
#3: 43yo M with excited delirium

Ketamine abuse

– Dissociative anesthetic (appear awake but unaware of all sensory input); effects similar to PCP but shorter duration (most recover within 1 hour)
– Common recreational intake: 100-200 mg
– Common presentation: tachycardia, palpitations, chest pain, anxiety
– Rare presentations: significant agitation, altered mental status, rhabdomyolysis
– Most patients discharged after several hours of ED observation
– Management: supportive care; benzodiazepines PRN

 Ketamine’s potential

– NMDA antagonist
Anesthesia without CV/respiratory depression unless given at very high doses
– Widely used for procedural sedation/RSI/DSI
– Many advocate for its use as an analgesic =>
– Evolving evidence for use in the agitated/violent patient (focus of this write-up)
– Refuted side effects: clinically significant increases in ICP and IOP; true contraindication in psychotic patients

Agitated and Violent Patient

– 1-2 mg/kg IV/IO; 4-5 mg/kg IM;
– Unpredictable effects at sub-dissociative doses, not appropriate for agitated patients
– Rapid sedation (< 5mins)
– Short duration
– Predictable dose-response relationship
– Can be given IM => bodes well for pre-hospital and early ED use
– Solid fit for tranquilization of uncontrollably violent patient
Potential side effects:
– Hypersalivation (apply suction)
– Hypoxia (administer O2)
– Laryngospasm (jaw thrust, O2, BMV, intubation)
– Emergence reaction (BZD)
– HTN/tachycardia

– Main concern would be covering up a major diagnosis 2/2 unreliable exam i.e. infection, seizure, ICH, SI
– Treat as if using procedural sedation – resuscitative monitoring, complete airway set-up, clinician at bedside

Bottom-line: Ketamine has strong support for procedural sedation and intubation purposes. While promising for the management of the agitated and violent patient, more data is needed before it supplants the regular use of benzodiazepines and butyrophenones. Of note: while sedating a patient, it is crucial to concurrently look for other underlying causes of this presentation.

References and Further Reading

3 thoughts on “Ketamine for the Agitated/Violent Patient”

  1. This is the drug of choice used by our trauma docs for agitated trauma patients and anecdotally speaking we have had good success. It has allowed us to gain control of the patient quickly without the airway compromise that could lead to intubation, a procedure that our trauma docs try to avoid unless absolutely necessary.

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