Low-Dose Ketamine Infusion for Adjunct Management during Vaso-occlusive Episodes in Adults with Sickle Cell Disease: A Case Series

Academic Article


  • The optimal management of recurrent painful episodes in individuals living with sickle cell disease (SCD) remains unclear. Currently, the primary treatment for these episodes remains supportive, using fluids and intravenous opioid and anti-inflammatory medications. Few reports have described the use of adjunct subanesthetic doses of ketamine to opioids for treatment of refractory pain in SCD. This article reports a retrospective case series of five patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with prolonged vaso-occlusive episodes (VOEs). Patients were treated with a continuous-infusion of low-dose ketamine (up to 5 µg/kg/min) after insufficient pain control with opioid analgesic therapy. Outcomes studied included impact on opioid analgesic use, a description of ketamine dosing strategy, and an analysis of adverse events due to opioid or ketamine analgesia. Descriptive statistics are provided. During ketamine infusion, patients experienced a lower reported pain score (mean numeric rating scale [NRS] score 7.2 vs. 6.4), reduced opioid-induced adverse effects, and decreased opioid dosing requirements (median reduction of 90 mg morphine equivalents per patient). The average duration of severe pain during admission prior to ketamine therapy was 8 days. Only one of five patients reported an adverse effect (vivid dreams) secondary to ketamine infusion. The Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale (RASS) was assessed throughout therapy, with only one patient experiencing light drowsiness. Low-dose ketamine infusion may be considered as an adjunct analgesic agent in patients with vaso-occlusive episodes who report continued severe pain despite high-dose opioid therapy, particularly those experiencing opioid-induced adverse effects.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Palm N; Floroff C; Hassig TB; Boylan A; Kanter J
  • Start Page

  • 20
  • End Page

  • 26
  • Volume

  • 32
  • Issue

  • 1