Two types of light sedatives for patients hospitalized with sepsis who require breathing support are equally effective

This photo shows medical equipment in an intensive care unit.

Hospitalized patients who require breathing support may receive one of two light sedatives: dexmedetomidine or propofol. The sedatives assist with comfort and safety, but can introduce cognitive effects. Physicians were curious if one treatment provided greater benefits for patients hospitalized with sepsis who required breathing support. After conducting a randomized, controlled trial with 422 patients, researchers at 13 medical centers found no significant differences associated with using dexmedetomidine or propofol over a 14-day period.

The researchers assessed the number of days patients experienced without delirium or being in a coma while receiving treatment as the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes assessed the number of ventilator-free days a patient had several weeks after treatment, 90-day survival rates, and cognitive function six months later.

“We now know that the choice of dexmedetomidine versus propofol does not alter outcomes for patients with sepsis on ventilators in a critical care setting,” said Lora Reineck, M.D., M.S., program director of the
acute lung injury and critical care program at the NHLBI. The study, supported by NHLBI, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.