Nitric oxide for inhalation in the acute treatment of sickle cell pain crisis: a randomized controlled trial

JAMA. 2011 Mar 2;305(9):893-902. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.235.


Context: Inhaled nitric oxide has shown evidence of efficacy in mouse models of sickle cell disease (SCD), case series of patients with acute chest syndrome, and 2 small placebo-controlled trials for treatment of vaso-occlusive pain crisis (VOC).

Objective: To determine whether inhaled nitric oxide gas reduces the duration of painful crisis in patients with SCD who present to the emergency department or hospital for care.

Design, setting, and participants: Prospective, multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial for up to 72 hours of inhaled nitric oxide gas vs inhaled nitrogen placebo in 150 participants presenting with VOC of SCD at 11 centers between October 5, 2004, and December 22, 2008. Intervention Inhaled nitric oxide gas vs inhaled nitrogen placebo.

Main outcome measures: The primary end point was the time to resolution of painful crisis, defined by (1) freedom from parenteral opioid use for 5 hours; (2) pain relief as assessed by visual analog pain scale scores of 6 cm or lower (on 0-10 scale); (3) ability to walk; and (4) patient's and family's decision, with physician consensus, that the remaining pain could be managed at home.

Results: There was no significant change in the primary end point between the nitric oxide and placebo groups, with a median time to resolution of crisis of 73.0 hours (95% confidence interval [CI], 46.0-91.0) and 65.5 hours (95% CI, 48.1-84.0), respectively (P = .87). There were no significant differences in secondary outcome measures, including length of hospitalization, visual analog pain scale scores, cumulative opioid usage, and rate of acute chest syndrome. Inhaled nitric oxide was well tolerated, with no increase in serious adverse events. Increases in venous methemoglobin concentration confirmed adherence and randomization but did not exceed 5% in any study participant. Significant increases in plasma nitrate occurred in the treatment group, but there were no observed increases in plasma or whole blood nitrite.

Conclusion: Among patients with SCD hospitalized with VOC, the use of inhaled nitric oxide compared with placebo did not improve time to crisis resolution.

Trial registration: Identifier: NCT00094887.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / complications*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Endothelium-Dependent Relaxing Factors / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nitric Oxide / administration & dosage*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Endothelium-Dependent Relaxing Factors
  • Nitric Oxide

Associated data