The hallmark of sickle cell disease (SCD) is the acute painful vaso-occlusive crisis (VOC). Among SCD patients, vaso-occlusive pain episodes vary in frequency and severity. Some patients rarely have painful crises, while others are admitted to the hospital multiple times in a year for parenteral analgesics. Opioids are the mainstay of therapy for SCD-related pain. However, a subset of patients report continued pain despite escalating doses of opioids. Tolerance and opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH) have been considered as possible explanations for this phenomenon. The activation of the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor has been implicated in both tolerance and OIH. As a NMDA receptor agonist, ketamine has been shown to modulate opioid tolerance and OIH in animal models and clinical settings. Low-dose ketamine, by virtue of its NMDA receptor agonist activity, could be a useful adjuvant to opioid therapy in patients with refractory SCD-related pain. Based on limited studies of adjuvant ketamine use for pain management, low-dose ketamine continuous infusion appears safe. Further clinical investigations are warranted to fully support the use of low-dose ketamine infusion in patients with SCD-related pain.
Keywords: analgesics; anemia; hyperalgesia; ketamine; opioid; pain; sickle cell/drug therapy; tolerance.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.