Surgical Anesthesia Drug May Increase Risk of Heart Events, Death: Study

A new study suggests that side effects of a commonly used surgical anesthetic drug may increase the risk of death due to heart problems.  

In this month’s issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that patients receiving the anesthesia drug etomidate faced a 250% increased risk of death within 30 days of exposure during surgery.

Researchers looked at the rate of deaths and cardiovascular events in about 2,100 patients who received etomidate and compared those rates to 5,200 patients who were exposed to propofol; a different anesthesia medication. They found that patients receiving etomidate faced significantly higher risks of death.

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Overall, the absolute risk of death for patients given etomidate was 6.5%, compared to only 2.5% for propofol patients.

The findings were highlighted in a press release by the International Anesthesia Research Society, which runs the medical journal. The Society warns that this is only the latest concern over the use of etomidate.

A prior study found an increased risk of death associated with the drug among patients receiving emergency care for critical illnesses.

“There is accumulating evidence for an association between mortality and etomidate use, both in critically ill patients and now in [non-critically ill] patients undergoing noncardiac surgery,” Drs. Matthieu Legrand and Benoit Plaud of Paris-Diderot University said in an accompanying editorial. “These findings are of major importance in light of the high number of patients who potentially receive etomidate each year worldwide. Since safe and efficient alternatives exist, a wise choice might certainly be the use of other anesthetic agents for induction of anesthesia.”

Researchers have found no reason for the increased risk of death, but Legrand and Plaud posit that it could be a “butterfly effect” of very small differences in how the drug affects the body building to major problems weeks later.


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