Inhaled anesthetic agents

Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2006 Apr 1;63(7):623-34. doi: 10.2146/ajhp050460.


Purpose: The pharmacology, bioavailability and pharmacokinetics, indications, clinical efficacy, adverse effects and toxicities, and dosage and administration of the inhaled anesthetics are reviewed.

Summary: The inhaled anesthetics include desflurane, enflurane, halothane, isoflurane, and sevoflurane and are thought to enhance inhibitory postsynaptic channel activity and inhibit excitatory synaptic activity. The mechanism of action of inhaled anesthetics has not been completely defined. A number of factors can influence the pharmacokinetics of inhaled anesthetics, including solubility in blood, cardiac output, tissue equilibration, extent of tissue perfusion, metabolism, and age. All of the available inhaled anesthetics are effective for inducing or maintaining anesthesia or both. Most clinical trials of inhaled anesthetics have evaluated differences in induction and emergence from anesthesia by comparing (1) times to loss of reflex, extubation, and response to verbal commands; orientation to time and place; and ability to sit up without assistance, (2) need for post-surgical analgesia, and (3) time to discharge as measures of efficacy. Adverse effects and toxicities of the inhaled anesthetics include nephrotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, cardiac arrhythmias, neurotoxicity, postoperative nausea and vomiting, respiratory depression and irritation, malignant hyperthermia, and postanesthesia agitation. Safety issues surrounding these gases include occupational exposure and intraoperative fires within the delivery systems used with inhaled anesthetics. Drugs used for anesthesia during surgery can account for 5-13% of a hospital's drug budget.

Conclusion: The inhaled anesthetics have been shown to be both safe and effective in inducing and maintaining anesthesia. These agents differ in potency, adverse-effect profile, and cost. Newer anesthetic gases, such as sevoflurane and desflurane, appear to have more favorable physico-chemical properties. These factors, as well as patient characteristics and duration and type of procedure, must be considered when selecting an inhaled anesthetic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / adverse effects
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / pharmacokinetics
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Safety
  • Therapeutic Equivalency


  • Anesthetics, Inhalation