Prehospital use of neuromuscular blocking agents in a helicopter ambulance program

Ann Emerg Med. 1988 Mar;17(3):236-42. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(88)80114-8.


We prospectively studied the use of succinylcholine chloride and pancuronium bromide by the physician/nurse flight team of our hospital-based helicopter ambulance service. Patients who received these agents at the scene of an accident (prehospital group, n = 39) were compared with patients who were paralyzed by the flight team in the emergency department of transferring hospitals (control group, n = 35). By protocol, succinylcholine was used primarily for endotracheal intubation and pancuronium for prolonged paralysis after endotracheal intubation. Seventy-four patients received one or both agents. Overall, 61 of 74 patients had intracranial pathology as their primary diagnosis (82%). Endotracheal intubation was the primary indication for paralysis in the majority of patients (67 of 74), although intracranial pressure control, ventilation, agitation control, and seizure control were frequent secondary indications. Prior intubation attempts had failed in 40 of 74 patients (54%). After paralysis, intubation was successful in 68 of 71 patients (96%). Serious complications (ie, dysrhythmia requiring drug therapy) occurred in three patients but resolved with appropriate therapy in each case. Minor complications (ie, dysrhythmia not requiring drug therapy, histamine flush, infiltrated IV line) occurred in 18 patients. There was no significant difference in successful intubation or complication rate between the prehospital and control group. Paralysis allowed airway stabilization in a significant number of critically ill patients who could not otherwise be endotracheally intubated, with a lower incidence of complications than has been previously reported for ED patients. These results suggest that neuromuscular blocking agents can be used safely and effectively at accident scenes by a physician/nurse team.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aircraft
  • Child
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancuronium / administration & dosage*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Succinylcholine / administration & dosage*


  • Succinylcholine
  • Pancuronium