Advantages and Disadvantages of Etomidate Use for Intubation of Patients with Sepsis


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Etomidate is a potent imidazole hypnotic used widely in single doses in the rapid sequence intubation of critically ill patients with sepsis due to its presumed hemodynamic safety, fast onset, and short duration of action. However, the literature is conflicting regarding the hemodynamic advantages of etomidate over other induction agents, and its safety in this population is a matter of strong debate in the critical care community as the drug is associated with suppression of adrenal steroidogenesis, which can last up to 72 hours after a single dose, primarily through potent inhibition of the 11β-hydroxylase enzyme. However, the clinical impact of this adrenal suppressive effect is not certain. The use of continuous-infusion etomidate in critically ill patients was abandoned more than 20 years ago due to reports of increased mortality. Nevertheless, mortality data of single-dose etomidate are still controversial, with no strong evidence of benefit over other agents and a tendency toward harm (keeping in mind the limitations of the available literature). Proponents of single-dose etomidate use in patients with sepsis suggest that the increased mortality associated with etomidate is merely a reflection of the patients' severity of illness and not related to the drug itself, whereas others believe that the drug causes true harm and increases mortality in this population. In view of the lack of a clear clinical advantage of etomidate over other agents used in rapid sequence intubation, it would be prudent to favor other agents until further conclusive evidence of etomidate safety is available in critically ill patients with sepsis.