Background: Ketamine in sub-dissociative doses has been shown to have analgesic effects in various pain conditions, including neuropathic and phantom-limb pain, where conventional treatment has often failed. Chronic ischemic pain due to lower extremity arteriosclerosis obliterans often responds poorly to analgesics, and the pain-generating mechanisms are not well understood.
Methods: Eight patients with rest pain in the lower extremity due to arteriosclerosis obliterans were given sub-dissociative doses of 0.15, 0.30, or 0.45 mg/kg racemic ketamine and morphine 10 mg as a 5-min infusion on four separate days in a cross-over, double-blind, randomised protocol. Plasma levels of (S)- and (R)-ketamine and their nor-metabolites were analysed with an enantioselective high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) method. Pain levels were evaluated with a visual analogue scale (VAS).
Results: Individual pain levels were highly variable during and after all the infusions but the pooled pain levels showed a dose-dependent analgesic effect of ketamine with a transient but complete pain relief in all the patients at the highest dose (0.45 mg/kg). Side-effects, mainly disturbed cognition and perception, were pronounced and dose-dependent. Morphine 10 mg had an analgesic peak at 20 min and 5/8 patients had complete pain relief. These 3 patients also had high baseline pain scores, indicating a higher analgesic potency for the 0.30 and 0.45 mg/kg ketamine doses than for morphine 10 mg.
Conclusion: We have demonstrated a potent dose-dependent analgesic effect of racemic ketamine in clinical ischemic pain. Due to a narrow therapeutic window, this analgesic effect is probably best utilised in combination with other analgesics.