Succinylcholine-assisted intubations in prehospital care

Ann Emerg Med. 1988 May;17(5):469-72. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(88)80238-5.


Although endotracheal intubation is considered the optimal technique for airway management in critically ill patients, performance of this task in the prehospital setting is at times difficult due to increased masseter muscle tone, vocal cord spasm, or patient combativeness. Use of short-acting paralyzing agents by paramedics to facilitate intubation in these situations is an uncommon practice. We report the recent experience of an emergency medical service system that has used succinylcholine (SUX) for more than ten years. We reviewed prehospital patient intubations for two years; 215 patients were intubated by paramedics without the use of SUX and 95 patients were intubated with the use of SUX. The patient group intubated with SUX was characterized by a greater percentage of women (48% vs 35%; P less than .05), a higher mean Glasgow Coma Scale score (8.6 vs 3.4), fewer intubations for cardiac arrest (3% vs 81%), and more hospital survivors (58% vs 24%; P less than .005). The groups were not different with respect to mean age or frequency of trauma. Paramedics chose to use SUX in 69% of nonarrested patients requiring intubation. SUX-assisted intubation was used most often for the indications of airway protection and respiratory distress. Review of hospital records showed no difference between the groups for frequency of either aspiration pneumonia or mechanical ventilation in patients surviving to hospital admission. No patient receiving SUX required emergency cricothyrotomy, nor was esophageal intubation noted in either group. Succinylcholine-assisted intubation was used safely and selectively by the paramedics in this EMS system to permit airway control and ventilation of patients with more difficult intubations.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergencies*
  • Emergency Medical Technicians
  • Female
  • Heart Arrest / therapy
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Succinylcholine / therapeutic use*


  • Succinylcholine