Complications of emergency intubation with and without paralysis

Am J Emerg Med. 1999 Mar;17(2):141-3. doi: 10.1016/s0735-6757(99)90046-3.


Expert and definitive airway management is fundamental to the practice of emergency medicine. In critically ill patients, rapid sedation and paralysis, also known as rapid-sequence intubation, is used to facilitate endotracheal intubation in order to minimize aspiration, airway trauma, and other complications of airway management. An alternative method of emergent endotracheal intubation, intubation minus paralysis, is performed without the use of neuromuscular blocking agents. The present study compared complications of these two techniques in the emergency setting. Sixty-seven intubations minus paralysis were prospectively compared with 166 rapid-sequence intubations. Complications were greater in number and severity in the nonparalyzed group and included aspiration (15%), airway trauma (28%), and death (3%). None of these difficulties were observed in the rapid-sequence group (P < .0001). These results show that rapid-sequence intubation when compared with intubation minus paralysis significantly reduces complications of emergency airway management and should be made available to emergency physicians trained in its use.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Conscious Sedation
  • Emergencies*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Hospital Mortality*
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / adverse effects*
  • Larynx / injuries*
  • Louisiana
  • Neuromuscular Blocking Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / etiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Neuromuscular Blocking Agents