Persistent paralysis in critically ill patients after long-term administration of vecuronium

N Engl J Med. 1992 Aug 20;327(8):524-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199208203270804.


Background: The muscle relaxant vecuronium is sometimes administered to facilitate mechanical ventilation. Neuromuscular paralysis lasting up to seven days may occur after the termination of long-term administration (i.e., more than two days) of vecuronium in critically ill patients. We investigated the role of clinical factors and plasma concentrations of vecuronium and its metabolite in causing this prolonged neuromuscular blockade.

Methods: We studied 16 critically ill adult patients (8 women and 8 men) who had received vecuronium to facilitate mechanical ventilation for at least two consecutive days. Clinical factors and plasma concentrations of vecuronium and 3-desacetylvecuronium, the active metabolite of vecuronium, were compared in patients with and without prolonged neuromuscular blockade. In addition, we performed detailed pharmacokinetic studies in the patients without prolonged neuromuscular blockade.

Results: Seven of the 16 patients had prolonged neuromuscular blockade, lasting from six hours to more than seven days, after the termination of vecuronium therapy. These seven patients, six of whom were women, had higher plasma magnesium concentrations and lower arterial blood pH values than the nine patients without prolonged neuromuscular blockade. They also had higher plasma concentrations of 3-desacetylvecuronium and a higher frequency of renal failure (seven of seven patients vs. four of nine patients, P less than 0.03). In the patients without prolonged neuromuscular blockade, the mean (+/- SD) plasma clearance, elimination half-life, and volume of distribution of vecuronium were 2.5 +/- 1.0 ml per kilogram of body weight per minute, 299 +/- 154 minutes, and 1.1 +/- 0.6 liters per kilogram, respectively.

Conclusions: Prolonged neuromuscular blockade after the termination of long-term treatment with vecuronium is associated with metabolic acidosis, elevated plasma magnesium concentrations, female sex, and probably more important, the presence of renal failure and high plasma concentrations of 3-desacetylvecuronium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Critical Illness*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Kidney Diseases / complications
  • Magnesium / blood
  • Male
  • Neuromuscular Junction / drug effects*
  • Paralysis / chemically induced
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Vecuronium Bromide / adverse effects*
  • Vecuronium Bromide / blood
  • Vecuronium Bromide / pharmacokinetics


  • Vecuronium Bromide
  • Magnesium