Current Medical Issues

: 2020  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 40--44

Procedural sedation and analgesia in the emergency department

Sandeep Nathanael David1, Priya Ganesan2,  
1 Department of Emergency Medicine, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India
2 Department of Emergency Medicine, Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sandeep Nathanael David
Department of Emergency Medicine, Christian Medical College, Vellore - 632 004, Tamil Nadu


Emergency medicine as a medical specialty has come a long way since its evolution from the now obsolete “Casualty Department.” A prevalent challenge in the emergency department (ED) is safe and effective administration of anesthetic agents to a patient in pain or altered mentation without compromising their airway control and hemodynamics. Fear and unfamiliarity with the use of various anesthetic agents is the major stumbling block in this regard. Procedural sedation and analgesia (PSA) in the ED improve patient satisfaction, reduces physiological stress and allows for rapid return of consciousness after traumatic procedures while providing sedation, analgesia, and amnesia. PSA is a planned service which should be provided under strict monitoring with proper preanesthetic workup and emergency measures easily available. PSA strengthens the armament of the emergency physician, allowing a better understanding of pain control and sedation without resorting to general anesthesia.

How to cite this article:
David SN, Ganesan P. Procedural sedation and analgesia in the emergency department.Curr Med Issues 2020;18:40-44

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David SN, Ganesan P. Procedural sedation and analgesia in the emergency department. Curr Med Issues [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Jun 9 ];18:40-44
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Procedural sedation is described by the American College of Emergency Physicians as “a technique of administering sedatives or dissociative agents with or without analgesics to induce a state that allows the patient to tolerate unpleasant procedures while maintaining cardiorespiratory function.” Procedural sedation and analgesia (PSA) involve reducing a patient's degree of awareness while maintaining stable hemodynamics and airway control.[1]

Peri-procedural apprehension or pain can lead to untoward sympathetic responses or posttraumatic stress disorder in patients undergoing invasive or painful procedures. A fine balance between sedation and analgesia while maintaining stable cardiorespiratory responses will obviate the need for general anesthesia (GA) and airway control for minor procedures.

As the administration of anesthetic agents outside the operation theater becomes more prevalent, it is necessary for emergency physicians to be aware of various pharmacological options for PSA, as well as the assessment of patients requiring PSA.

 Procedures Requiring Procedural Sedation and Analgesia

Pediatric suturingJoint reductionFracture fixationImaging in noncooperative or pediatric patientsBurn victimsElective cardioversionTranscutaneous pacing.

 Grades of Sedation

Sedation is graded according to the classification set by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA)[1] [Table 1]. The goal of PSA is to establish minimal or moderate sedation, without the need for cardiorespiratory supports.{Table 1}

 Assessment Before Procedural Sedation and Analgesia


PSA should be a planned procedure which involves a history and the evaluation of the patient's airway. History can be quickly taken with the “SAMPLE” pneumonic tool.[2],[3]

Signs and symptomsAllergiesMedicationsPast medical, anesthetic, and surgical historyLast mealEvents leading to the patient's condition.

Patients with traumatic brain injury or history of seizures must be noted, as ketamine would preferably be avoided in such patients. Medications such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers should be noted in the event of symptomatic bradycardia or anaphylaxis which would require glucagon for treatment. The presence of existing cardiac disease and concomitant use of B-blockers would also alert to the possibility of hypotension when administering propofol or dexmedetomidine. Beta-agonist inhalers or inhaled steroids should alert the health-care professional to possible reactive airway disease, which could be a risk factor for anaphylaxis.


The ASA recommends a 2-h period of fasting for clear fluids and 6–8 h for solid feeds to minimize the chance for emesis and aspiration.[4] However, there are no confirmed reports of adverse events secondary to aspiration during PSA in the emergency department (ED) following inadequate fasting.[5],[6] PSA by definition preserves airway responses, thus fasting may not be necessary or practical for all patients.[7],[8] There are no outcome studies showing benefits from fasting before PSA. If needed, a prophylactic anti-emetic may be given before the procedure; however, there are no studies confirming the added benefit of this. In particular, children may not tolerate prolonged periods of fasting, and the stress response to fasting may be physiologically detrimental to them.

American Society of Anesthesiologists grading

The patient must be classified based on the ASA physical classification system [Table 2]. The risk of a complication from ED PSA in ASA Class I and II patients is low, usually <5%. Informed consent for PSA must be obtained for all patients as the risk of an adverse PSA event is correspondingly higher in patients with an ASA Class of III or IV.[9],[10]{Table 2}

Airway assessment

A thorough examination of the patient's airway must be performed before any procedure requiring PSA in case airway reflexes are lost during the procedure and manual or mechanical ventilatory support is needed. The presence of facial hair, short neck, and dentures must be documented. The Mallampati score, while a staple component of airway assessment for difficult intubation,[11] has poor correlation with difficult bag-mask ventilation and does not relate to clinical outcome.[12],[13] Rather than a single screening method, a composite approach such as the familiar LEMON mnemonic can be used to predict a potentially difficult airway.


The American College of Emergency Physicians recommends at least 2 ED personnel, at least one of whom is skilled in vascular access and advanced airway control.[14] In the event that a doctor is unable to be present, an appropriately trained nurse or physician assistant can monitor the patient, provided they have adequate experience with anesthetics.[15] The treating health-care professional must have knowledge of the various pharmacological options and their respective pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. They must also be aware of the various routes of administration and side effects. The overseeing doctor is responsible for the entire PSA procedure, including the identification and management of adverse events.[14],[15]


OxygenBMV deviceSuctionOral/nasal airway(s)Intubation equipmentPulse oximeterMonitor for electrocardiography (ECG), blood pressure (BP), capnographyDefibrillator, transcutaneous pacemakerVascular access equipmentReversal agents– Naloxone, flumazenil.

It would be prudent to have a difficult airway trolley in the area designated for PSA, containing equipment required for airway management, including rescue devices such as supraglottic airway devices and equipment for the emergency front of neck access.


Interactive monitoring

The treating doctor should have an unobstructed view of the patient's face and chest during the procedure, paying special attention for the signs of airway obstruction and hypopnea. The presence of stridor, paradoxical breathing, reduced respiratory effort, and reduced respiratory rate should be rapidly addressed. Other possible complications are laryngospasm and vomiting.

Mechanical monitoring

Pulse rateSaO2BPECGET-CO2 if available.

Although end-tidal CO2 monitoring is a relatively new and effective monitoring tool in the ED,[16] it is expensive and its use during PSA has no shown any improvement in patient outcomes.[17],[18],[19] Furthermore, there is evidence from a recent randomized controlled trial that the use of capnography may be associated with an increased incidence of positive pressure ventilation during transient periods of hyperpnea leading to hypotension and increased usage of airway maneuvers.[20] Thus, despite its many advantages during GA and mechanical ventilation, it is currently not considered a vital monitor for PSA in the ED.


The ideal agent for PSA in the ED provides rapid and predictable anxiolysis, analgesia, and amnesia with little to no side effects, and with rapid return of consciousness.[21] There is no ideal single agent for PSA in the ED and drugs are usually given in combination with one another. Common pharmacological agents used for PSA in the ED are given below [Table 3].{Table 3}

Although concomitant use of midazolam and ketamine has been successfully used in the past for ED PSA,[22],[23] the combination of ketamine and propofol (“Ketofol”) has been shown to be particularly effective due to the synergistic pharmacodynamics between its two components. Ketamine has analgesic and sympathomimetic properties but has the undesirable side effects of tachycardia hypertension, emesis, increased laryngeal secretions, increase in intracranial pressures, and the chance of seizures.[24] Propofol is a rapidly acting sedative and hypnotic agent which blunts sympathetic activity, is a natural bronchodilator and has anti-emetic properties,[25] but can be disastrous if given to hypotensive and hypovolemic patients, as well as those with decompensated cardiac disease. Either given individually or coadministered in the same syringe, ketofol (0.5 mg/kg of both agents) maintains stable hemodynamics and the preservation of airway reflexes while inducing moderate sedation and analgesia with rapid recovery.[24],[25],[26],[27],[28]

There are concerns about propofol being administered for patients with egg or soy allergy;[29] however, these were found to be inconsequential. Propofol contains lecithin derived from egg yolk which is nonantigenic compared to albumin which is present in egg white and responsible for allergic reactions to egg.[30] With regard to soy allergy, propofol is manufactured with refined soy oil, which contains little to no protein capable of inducing a response.[31] Care must be taken in known cases of atopy;[32] however, a recent study by Asserhøj et al. showed that allergy to egg or soy is not a contraindication to the administration of propofol.[33]

Dexmedetomidine is a relatively new anesthetic agent, an evolution of clonidine. It is derived from medetomidine, a veterinary anesthetic,[34] and is an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist. It produces excellent sedation, analgesia, and anxiolysis while maintaining airway reflexes. However, it can cause dangerous bradycardia, hypotension, and hypertension.[35],[36] A recent meta-analysis comparing dexmedetomidine and midazolam for procedural sedation was found to be promising;[37] however, cost and unfamiliarity may limit its use in the ED as an agent for procedural sedation.

 Adverse Effects

Most adverse events occur during PSA, generally within a few minutes of sedative administration. The occurrence of adverse events >5 min after the completion of the procedure is rare.[38],[39] Apnea is the most commonly reported major adverse reaction,[15],[40] with others being hemodynamic compromise and anaphylaxis. In the event of oversedation and airway compromise, airway adjuncts should be used in patients prone to obstruction such as obese and pregnant patients with gentle positive pressure ventilation to prevent gastric insufflation. In the pediatric population, delayed awakening may occur,[41],[42] and hence, children must be monitored closely till fully awake and tolerating oral feeds.

 Management of Specific Complications during Procedural Sedation and Analgesia

Benzodiazepene overdose-Flumazenil 0.01 mg/kg slow intravenous (IV) pushOpioid overdose-Naloxone 0.01 mg/kg IV/intramuscularLaryngospasm from ketamine– Employ Larson's maneuver to break the laryngospasm. Additional boluses of Propofol or even minimal boluses of Succinylcholine with Positive Pressure ventilation may be needed to break the Laryngospasm, in which cases advanced airway management would be required.

 Patient Disposition

Patients should be monitored until a return to baseline mental status with stable vitals and minimal pain and nausea. Children and the elderly in particular should be closely observed for delayed reactions. Nausea is common after PSA, especially following the administration of opioids and ketamine.[14]


PSA has become a standard practice in the ED and must be considered a vital component of emergency care and competency. It must be approached as a planned procedure with backup measures in the event of an adverse drug reaction or cardiorespiratory instability. There is no single ideal agent for PSA; however, the combination of pharmacological agents such as ketofol can ensure good sedoanalgesia while maintaining airway reflexes and stable hemodynamics. The entire procedure must be documented and the patient must be monitored till the return of baseline vital signs and consciousness.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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