Dexmedetomidine for end of life sedation: Retrospective cohort comparison study

Publication Name

BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care


Objectives: Infused sedatives are often utilised to alleviate distress at the end of life. Which sedative best achieves this is unknown. This study compares breakthrough medication requirements of patients treated with the novel agent dexmedetomidine compared with patients treated with standard-care sedatives. Methods: A retrospective cross-cohort comparison. Two studies of patients at the end of life under sedation at the same palliative care unit, one utilising novel sedatives, and the other standard care were compared. Breakthrough medication requirements were compared using paired t-tests, including opioids, benzodiazepines and anticholinergics. Changes in background infusions were compared. Results: The dexmedetomidine cohort required less breakthrough interventions per day compared with the standard care group, the reduction was significant (2.2 vs 3.9, p=0.003). There was a significant difference in benzodiazepine requirements, with the dexmedetomidine cohort requiring fewer doses per day than the standard care cohort (1.1 vs 0.6, p=0.03). Anticholinergics were more commonly utilised in the standard care cohort but there was no significant difference (p=0.22). Opioid requirements were similar across cohorts with comparable rates of breakthrough use and infusion increases. Conclusions: This study demonstrates a reduction in breakthrough medication requirements, particularly benzodiazepines, for patients sedated with dexmedetomidine at end of life.

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