Critical Review and Meta-Analysis of Postoperative Sedation after Adult Cardiac Surgery: Dexmedetomidine Versus Propofol

J Cardiothorac Vasc Anesth. 2021 Apr;35(4):1134-1142. doi: 10.1053/j.jvca.2020.10.022. Epub 2020 Oct 17.


Objective: To evaluate reports from the published literature of all randomized clinical trials (RCT) comparing postoperative sedation with dexmedetomidine versus propofol in adult patients, after open cardiac surgery.

Design: A computerized search on Medline, EMBASE, Web of Science, and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality databases was completed through June 2020. Meta-analysis of all published RCT comparing dexmedetomidine versus propofol utilization in the postoperative phase, using the standard Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses checklist.

Setting: Assemblage and critical discussion of 11 RCTs comparing postoperative sedation from standard published reports from 2003 to 2019.

Participants: The study comprised 1,184 patients and analyzed critical discussion of time-based parameters (time to extubation, intensive care unit length of stay, and hospital length of stay) and nontime-dependent factors (delirium, bradycardia, and hypotension).

Measurements and main results: Time to extubation was significantly reduced in the dexmedetomidine group (standardized mean difference [SMD] = -0.70, 95% confidence interval [CI] -0.98 to -0.42, p < 0.001); however, no difference in mechanical ventilation time was observed (SMD = -0.72, 95% CI -1.60 to 0.15, N.S.). Dexmedetomidine significantly reduced the intensive care unit length of stay (SMD = 0.23, 95% CI -1.06 to -0.16, p = 0.008), but this did not translate into a reduced hospital length of stay (SMD = -1.13, 95% CI -2.43 to 0.16, N.S). For nontime-dependent factors, incidence of delirium was unaffected between groups (odds ratio [OR]: 0.68, 95% CI 0.43-1.06, N.S), and higher rates of bradycardia (OR: 3.39, 95% CI: 1.20-9.55, p = 0.020) and hypotension (OR: 1.68, 95% CI 1.09-2.58, p = 0.017) were reported with propofol.

Conclusions: Despite the ICU time advantages afforded by dexmedetomidine over propofol, the former did not seem to contribute to an overall reduction in hospital length of stay or improvement in postoperative outcomes of heart valve surgery and CABG patients.

Keywords: adult open cardiac surgery; dexmedetomidine; postoperative sedation; propofol.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures* / adverse effects
  • Dexmedetomidine*
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Propofol*
  • Respiration, Artificial


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Dexmedetomidine
  • Propofol