Propylene glycol toxicity following continuous etomidate infusion for the control of refractory cerebral edema

Michael L. Levy, Margaret Aranda, Vladimir Zelman, Steven L. Giannotta

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64 Citations (Scopus)


CONTINUED ELEVATIONS IN Intracranial Pressure (ICP) following traumatic or ischemic compromise are known to cause markedly increased morbidity and mortality. Because of the side effects of barbiturates including hypotension and prolonged recovery time, the use of shorter-acting anesthetic agents to control ICP has been considered. Etomidate, when administered by continuous infusion, has been shown to decrease cerebral metabolism resulting in a secondary decrease in cerebral blood flow with minimal changes in cerebral perfusion pressure. We initially intended to randomize 20 patients prospectively into a study protocol that would assess the effects of either pentobarbital or the cardioprotective agent etomidate on ICP and cardiac performance. Given the sequelae of the therapy, we were only able to randomize seven patients with cerebral edema refractory to medical management to receive either etomidate or pentobarbital in a blinded fashion. Three patients who received etomidate developed renal compromise (mean low creatinine clearance 41 ml/min, range 37–44 ml/min) which was initially noted at 24 hours. We believed that this represented an adverse effect that was probably related to the study drug and the study was stopped. Each patient received a 0.30 mg/kg IV induction of etomidate and then 0.02 mg/kg/min continuous infusion for 24–72 hours titrated to burst suppression. All patients also received dexamethasone 2mg IV every six hours to prevent the adrenocortical insufficiency that might occur as a consequence of etomidate-induced suppression of cortisol synthesis. Intracranial pressure decreased (mean = 12mmHg) following the initiation of etomidate. Cardiac parameters remained unchanged (cardiac output 4.8 ±.6 liters/min). We conclude that the renal compromise was likely resultant from toxic accumulation of the carrier agent propylene glycol. We suggest that the consideration of critical loads of potentially toxic carriers, such as propylene glycol, is important in future studies requiring long-term, continuous infusions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-371
Number of pages9
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Cerebral edema
  • Etomidate
  • Propylene glycol


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