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Ketamine infusion for pain control in adult patients with multiple rib fractures: Results of a randomized control trial. J Trauma Acute Care Surg 2019 02;86(2):181-188



Pubmed ID




Scopus ID

2-s2.0-85060819442   9 Citations


BACKGROUND: Rib fractures occur in up to 40% of trauma patients and are associated with increased mortality. Opiate-based pain regimens remain the cornerstone of rib fracture management; however, concerns around opioids have fostered interest in alternative analgesics. Ketamine is currently being used in lieu of opioids, but little evidence exists supporting its use within the trauma population.

METHODS: A prospective, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of adult patients with three or more rib fractures admitted to a Level I trauma center was conducted. Exclusion criteria included age older than 64 years, Glasgow Coma Scale score less than 13, and chronic opiate use. The experimental arm received low-dose ketamine (LDK) at 2.5 μg·kg·min while the placebo cohort received an equivalent rate of 0.9% normal saline. All infusions were continued for 48 hours. The primary outcome was reduction in numeric pain score (NPS) during the first 24 hours. Secondary outcomes studied included oral morphine equivalent (OME) utilization, length of stay, epidural rates, pulmonary complications, and adverse events.

RESULTS: Forty-five (49%) of 91 patients were randomized to the experimental arm. Both groups were similar in makeup. Overall, 74.7% were male, had a median age of 49 years, and an Injury Severity Score (ISS) of 14. Low-dose ketamine was not associated with a significant reduction in 24-hour NPS or OME totals. Subgroup analysis of 45 severely injured patients (ISS, >15) demonstrated that LDK was associated with a significant reduction in OME utilization during the first 24 hours (35.7 vs. 68, p = 0.03), 24 hours to 48 hours (64.2 vs. 96, p = 0.03), and overall (152.1 vs. 198, p = 0.048). No difference in other secondary outcomes or adverse events was noted.

CONCLUSION: Low-dose ketamine failed to decrease NPS or OME within the overall cohort, but a decrease in OME was observed among patients with an ISS greater than 15. Confirmatory studies are necessary to determine if LDK is a useful adjunct among severely injured patients.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Therapeutic study, level II.

Author List

Carver TW, Kugler NW, Juul J, Peppard WJ, Drescher KM, Somberg LB, Szabo A, Yin Z, Paul JS


Thomas W. Carver MD Associate Professor in the Surgery department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Karin E. Drescher MD Associate Professor in the Anesthesiology department at Medical College of Wisconsin
William J. Peppard PharmD Trauma/Surgical Critical Care Pharmacist in the Pharmacy department at Froedtert Hospital
Aniko Szabo PhD Professor in the Institute for Health and Equity department at Medical College of Wisconsin

MESH terms used to index this publication - Major topics in bold

Acute Pain
Anesthetics, Dissociative
Double-Blind Method
Infusions, Intravenous
Middle Aged
Pain Management
Prospective Studies
Rib Fractures
Young Adult
jenkins-FCD Prod-482 91ad8a360b6da540234915ea01ff80e38bfdb40a