UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: Low-Dose Ketamine for Pain Management in the ED

Keywords: ketamine, pain, opioid (PubMed Search)

Posted: 2/24/2015 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Emailed: 3/7/2015) (Updated: 3/7/2015)
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Emergency Departments are increasingly searching for alternatives to opioids for acute pain management.

An urban trauma center in California retrospectively evaluated their use of low-dose ketamine for acute pain over a two-year period. [1]

  • 530 patients
  • Indications were separated in 7 broad categories such as abdominal pain, back pain, and musculoskeletal pain
  • Ketamine dose: 10-15 mg (93% IV, 7% IM)
  • No significant changes in heart rate or blood pressure
  • 30 patients (6%) experienced adverse effects (psychomimetic/dysphoric reactions, transient hypoxia, emesis) - none were classified as severe based on authors' definitions

Application to Clinical Practice

There was no comparison group and there was no mention of what other pain medicines were given. Adverse events are often under-reported in retrospective studies. This study seems to demonstrate that low-dose ketamine administration for acute pain management in the ED is feasible with a low rate of adverse effects.

It's worth noting that a new review of 4 randomized controlled trials evaluating subdissociative-dose ketamine found no convincing evidence to support or refute its use in the ED. The 4 included trials had methodologic limitations. [2]


  1. Ahern TL, et al. The first 500: initial experience with widespread use of low-dose ketamine for acute pain management in the ED. Am J Emerg Med 2015;33(2):197-201. [PMID 25488336]
  2. Sin B, et al. The use of subdissociative-dose ketamine for acute pain in the emergency department. Acad Emerg Med. 2015 Feb 25. [Epub ahead of print, PMID 25716117]

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