Intranasal ketamine for analgesia in the emergency department: a prospective observational series

Acad Emerg Med. 2013 Oct;20(10):1050-4. doi: 10.1111/acem.12229.


Objectives: The objective was to examine the feasibility, effectiveness, and adverse effect profile of intranasal ketamine for analgesia in emergency department (ED) patients.

Methods: This was a prospective observational study examining a convenience sample of patients aged older than 6 years experiencing moderate or severe pain, defined as a visual analog scale (VAS) score of 50 mm or greater. Patients received 0.5 to 0.75 mg/kg intranasal ketamine. Pain scores were recorded on a standard 100-mm VAS by trained investigators at baseline, then every 5 minutes for 30 minutes, and then every 10 minutes for an additional 30 minutes. The primary outcome was the number and proportion of patients experiencing clinically significant reductions in VAS pain scores, defined as VAS reductions of 13 mm or more, within 30 minutes. Secondary outcomes included the median reduction in VAS, the median time required to achieve a 13 mm reduction in VAS, vital sign changes, and adverse events. Continuous data are reported with medians and interquartile ranges (IQRs). The Wilcoxon signed-ranks test was used to assess changes in VAS scores. Adverse effects are reported with proportions and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: Forty patients were enrolled with a median age of 47 years (IQR = 36 to 57 years; range = 11 to 79 years) for primarily orthopedic injuries. A reduction in VAS of 13 mm or more within 30 minutes was achieved in 35 patients (88%). The median change in VAS at 30 minutes was 34 mm (44%). Median time required to achieve a 13 mm VAS reduction was 9.5 minutes (IQR = 5 to 13 minutes; range = 5 to 25 minutes). No serious adverse effects occurred. Minor adverse effects included dizziness (21 patients, 53%; 95% CI = 38% to 67%), feeling of unreality (14 patients, 35%; 95% CI = 22% to 50%), nausea (four patients, 10%; 95% CI = 4% to 23%), mood change (three patients, 8%; 95% CI = 3% to 20%), and changes in hearing (one patient, 3%; 95% CI = 0% to 13%). All adverse effects were transient and none required intervention. There were no changes in vital signs requiring clinical intervention.

Conclusions: Intranasal ketamine reduced VAS pain scores to a clinically significant degree in 88% of ED patients in this series. Adverse effects were minor and transient. Intranasal ketamine may have a role in the provision of effective, expeditious analgesia to ED patients.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesia*
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / administration & dosage*
  • Ketamine / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics
  • Ketamine