After a century, Epinephrine's role in cardiac arrest resuscitation remains controversial

Am J Emerg Med. 2021 Jan:39:168-172. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2020.08.103. Epub 2020 Oct 21.


Background: Epinephrine is recommended in contemporary educational efforts by the American Heart Association (AHA) as central to adult Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS). However, the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR) 2019 recommendations update describes large evidentiary gaps for epinephrine use in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, highlighting that clinical and experimental evidence do not support the current AHA recommendations.

Objective: This controversies article was written as a response to updated AHA and ILCOR adult ACLS recommendations in late 2019. This report summarizes and evaluates the evidence surrounding epinephrine for cardiac arrest with a focus on the historical perspective of epinephrine research.

Discussion: According to the 2019 AHA ACLS guidelines, epinephrine is an integral component of adult out-of-hospital cardiac arrest resuscitation. Epinephrine improves rates of return of spontaneous circulation and might provide benefit at different doses or in select resuscitation scenarios, such asystole as an initial rhythm at onset of resuscitation efforts. However, evidence indicates potential harms with routine use of standard dose epinephrine (1 mg/10 mL), with no improvement in neurologic or long-term outcomes.

Conclusions: Despite years of use and inclusion in resuscitation guidelines, epinephrine is not associated with improved neurologic outcomes. The AHA Emergency Cardiovascular Care committee should revise ACLS guidelines reflecting evidence that standard-dose epinephrine offers little benefit to successful patient recovery including neurologic outcomes. Future resuscitation guidelines should reflect this important consideration.

Keywords: Cardiac arrest; Epinephrine; Heart arrest; Resuscitation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support / methods*
  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support / standards
  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support / trends
  • Biomedical Research
  • Cardiovascular Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Epinephrine / therapeutic use*
  • Heart Arrest / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cardiovascular Agents
  • Epinephrine