The role of neuromuscular blockade in patients with traumatic brain injury: a systematic review

F. Sanfilippo, C. Santonocito, T. Veenith, M. Astuto, M. O. Maybauer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Management of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) focuses on controlling intracranial pressure (ICP), while other treatments, such as the use of neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBAs), need scientific evidence. We conducted a systematic review to investigate the usefulness of NMBAs in the context of TBI and/or increased ICP. We searched MEDLINE and EMBASE databases up to January 31st 2014, including both clinical and experimental findings. We found a total of 34 articles, of which 22 were prospective clinical trials. No systematic review/meta-analyses were found. Seven studies evaluated NMBA boluses in preventing stimulation-related ICP surges: paralysis was effective during tracheal suctioning and physiotherapy but not during bronchoscopy. Fourteen small studies (8 to 25 patients) assessed the effect of NMBA boluses on ICP. Two studies showed an ICP increase by succinylcholine and one found a decrease in ICP after atracurium. No ICP changes were observed in the other studies. One prospective study confirmed that discontinuing paralysis increases energy expenditure. Two retrospective studies investigated mortality/morbidity: one found that early paralysis (continued for >12 h) was not beneficial and potentially associated with extra-cranial complications, while the second demonstrated a correlation between continuous infusion of NMBA and time spent with ICP > 20 mmHg. Eight animal studies were also retrieved. In most studies, NMBA bolus was beneficial in controlling ICP, especially when performing stimulating procedures. However, retrospective evidence found potential harm by continuous NMBA infusion. In the context of TBI patients, we discuss the potentially positive effects of paralysis with its negative ones. Well-conducted randomized controlled trials and/or large pharmaco-epidemiologic studies are warranted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-334
Number of pages10
JournalNeurocritical Care
Early online date3 Sept 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015


  • Critical care
  • Critical illness
  • Head injury
  • Intensive care
  • Intracranial pressure
  • Myopathy
  • Neuromuscular blocking agents
  • Polyneuropathy


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