Pain management and sedation in the pediatric intensive care unit

Pediatr Clin North Am. 1994 Dec;41(6):1269-92. doi: 10.1016/s0031-3955(16)38873-3.


Several situations arise in the PICU patient that require the administration of drugs for sedation and analgesia. A "cookbook" approach is impossible because of the diversity of patient and clinical scenarios. When amnesia is required, these authors prefer a continuous infusion of a benzodiazepine such as midazolam or lorazepam. Although the majority of clinical experience has been with midazolam, lorazepam either by bolus dose or continuous infusion offers a cost-effective alternative. When analgesia is required, the addition of a continuous infusion of narcotic or the use of a PCA device in the older patient should prove effective. Although fentanyl is frequently chosen, morphine is an effective and cost-effective alternative for patients with stable cardiovascular function. The synthetic narcotics are recommended for neonates, especially following cardiac surgical procedures and those at risk for pulmonary vasospasm. Narcotics may also be used for the treatment of agitation in those situations that do not necessarily require analgesia. Our clinical experience suggests that narcotics may be more effective for sedation than benzodiazepines in children less than 1 year of age. When the above agents fail to be effective or are associated with cardiovascular depression, alternatives may include ketamine or pentobarbital. Ketamine may be useful for the unstable patient or those with a bronchospastic component to their disease process. We have found pentobarbital to be effective when the combination of benzodiazepines and narcotics fails to provide the desired level of sedation. Aside from these techniques, regional anesthesia may offer a more effective means of controlling pain in the PICU patient. These techniques may be effective when parenteral narcotics are inadequate or lead to undesired effects. Although most commonly used for postoperative analgesia, their use in patients with pain from other causes (e.g., multiple trauma) may be indicated, especially when parenteral narcotics may interfere with respiratory function or the ongoing assessment of the patient's mental status.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Anesthesia, Conduction
  • Anesthetics / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Conscious Sedation / methods*
  • Critical Care*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pediatrics*


  • Analgesics
  • Anesthetics