Low-Dose Epinephrine Boluses for Acute Hypotension in the PICU

Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2018 Apr;19(4):281-286. doi: 10.1097/PCC.0000000000001448.


Objectives: To describe the use of low-dose bolus epinephrine in critically ill children during an acute hypotensive episode or prearrest condition.

Design: Institutional Review Board approved, single-center, retrospective medical chart review.

Setting: Large medical-surgical PICU within a freestanding, tertiary care children's hospital.

Patients: Patients admitted to the PICU between June 1, 2015, and June 1, 2016, who received low-dose (≤ 5 µg/kg) IV bolus epinephrine.

Interventions: None.

Measurement and main results: Twenty-four resuscitation episodes (63 doses; 19 patients) were analyzed. Median age and weight of patients were 9 years (interquartile range, 1-15 yr) and 38.5 kg (interquartile range, 12-54.8 kg). Median Pediatric Risk of Mortality III score was 17 (interquartile range, 10-27). Mean epinephrine dose was 1.3 ± 1.1 µg/kg. Median number of doses per patient was two. If more than one dose was provided, median dosing interval was 6.5 minutes. Heart rate and mean arterial blood pressure were compared at the time of epinephrine administration and 1-4 minutes (median = 1 min) following administration. Heart rate changed from 130 ± 41 to 150 ± 33 beats/min (p < 0.05), and mean arterial blood pressure changed from 51 ± 17 to 75 ± 27 mm Hg (p < 0.001). Variability in mean arterial blood pressure response was observed; nonresponders required extracorporeal membrane oxygenation; 66% of doses resulted in up to 100% mean arterial blood pressure increase, and 21% of doses resulted in greater than 100% mean arterial blood pressure increase. Doses below 1 µg/kg were associated with a lower mean arterial blood pressure increase than doses between 1 and 5 µg/kg (mean percent change in mean arterial blood pressure = 6.6% vs 60%, respectively). Children less than or equal to 2 years old had the greatest percentage increase in heart rate and mean arterial blood pressure.

Conclusions: Provision of low-dose bolus epinephrine during periods of acute hypotension can result in a significant increase in mean arterial blood pressure and heart rate. This dosing strategy may provide temporary stabilization while other therapies are added or adjusted, but further research is needed.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Epinephrine / administration & dosage*
  • Epinephrine / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hypotension / drug therapy*
  • Infant
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric
  • Male
  • Resuscitation / methods
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / adverse effects


  • Vasoconstrictor Agents
  • Epinephrine