The use of sedation has long been integrated into critical care. Because pain, discomfort, anxiety, and agitation are commonly experienced by critically ill patients, the use of medications to alleviate and control these symptoms will continue; however, data showing that prolonged use of sedating medications imparts harm to patients obligate physicians to use agents and methods of sedation that minimize these negative side effects. Numerous observational studies and clinical trials have proven that decisions in sedation management play a crucial role in determining outcomes for mechanically ventilated ICU patients, and recent evidence supports the use of protocols that streamline efforts to discontinue sedation and mechanical ventilation in a safe and parallel fashion. Regardless of choice of sedating agent, and even when patient-targeted sedation protocols are used to minimize oversedation, the use of spontaneous awakening trials dramatically improves patient outcomes for critically ill patients. Intensive care physicians must continue to study the delivery of sedation in efforts to maximize patient comfort while minimizing patient harm.
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