Ketamine infusion for sickle cell pain crisis refractory to opioids: a case report and review of literature

Ann Hematol. 2014 May;93(5):769-71. doi: 10.1007/s00277-013-1954-3. Epub 2013 Nov 15.


This article reports a rare case of the use of low-dose ketamine infusion as an adjuvant to opioids to treat pain in sickle cell disease. A 31-year-old African-American male with history of sickle cell disease presented to the emergency department with complaints of chest tightness, multiple joint pain, and headache for 1 week. His vital signs and physical examination were unremarkable. His admission lab included hemoglobin of 8.4 g/dl, reticulocyte count of 16.3%, bilirubin of 1.7 mg/dl, and LDH of 1,267 U/l. Chest X-ray showed middle and lower lobe opacity and interstitial thickening. He was treated for acute pain crisis and community-acquired pneumonia with intravenous fluids, supplemental oxygen, and intravenous levofloxacin. He was placed on fentanyl patient-controlled analgesia (PCA), oxycodone, ketorolac, and methadone with co-analgesic gabapentin and venlafaxine. Over the course of his hospitalization, his chest pain resolved, but the joint pains continued. He was then transferred to the ICU and was discharged a day later after 7 days of ketamine infusion. Ketamine is a noncompetitive antagonist at the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. This property has been shown to modulate opioid tolerance and opioid-induced hyperalgesia. There have been a very few published reports on the use of low-dose ketamine in sickle cell pain management. A PubMed search revealed four published articles (Table 1). Fourteen out of the 17 cases (82.35%) who received ketamine infusion showed improvement in self-reported pain intensity and significant reduction in opioid dosage. Only one patient (5.9%) developed serious side effect leading to discontinuation of the drug. A low-dose ketamine can be an option for pain control in sickle cell disease. Randomized trial is required to establish this benefit of ketamine over currently available therapies.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / complications
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Ketamine / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Management / methods*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Ketamine