Intraoperative use of dexmedetomidine for the prevention of emergence agitation and postoperative delirium in thoracic surgery: a randomized-controlled trial

  • Jie Ae Kim
  • Hyun Joo AhnEmail author
  • Mikyung Yang
  • Sang Hyun Lee
  • Heejoon Jeong
  • Bong Gyu Seong
Reports of Original Investigations



We investigated whether preventive use of dexmedetomidine during surgery was effective for reducing emergence agitation and postoperative delirium.


In this double-blind randomized-controlled trial, 143 patients undergoing thoracoscopic lung resection surgery were randomly assigned to the dexmedetomidine-sevoflurane (DEX-Sevo, n = 73) or sevoflurane (Sevo, n = 70) groups. Dexmedetomidine or saline administration was started after inducing anesthesia and continued until the end of surgery at a fixed dose (0.5 µg·kg−1·hr−1). The primary endpoint was the incidence of delirium up until the end of postoperative day 3. Emergence agitation and postoperative delirium were measured with the Riker sedation agitation scale and the confusion assessment method, respectively. The secondary endpoints were serum cytokine and catecholamine levels.


The DEX-Sevo group showed less frequent emergence agitation than the Sevo group (13% vs 35%, respectively; relative risk, 0.38; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.18 to 0.79; P = 0.011) but the incidence of delirium after discharge from the postanesthesia care unit was not different (25% vs 25%, DEX-Sevo vs Sevo). Both pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines were lower in the DEX-Sevo group than in the Sevo group. Nevertheless, the interleukin (IL)6/IL10 ratio (median difference, 5.8; 95% CI,1.8 to 10.0; P = 0.012) and IL8/IL10 ratio (median difference, 0.8; 95% CI, 0.2 to 1.3; P = 0.007) were higher in the DEX-Sevo group than in the Sevo group, indicating a pro-inflammatory cytokine balance in the DEX-Sevo group. Norepinephrine and epinephrine levels were lower in the DEX-Sevo group than in the Sevo group (both, P < 0.001).


Intraoperative dexmedetomidine reduced emergence agitation but not postoperative delirium in patients undergoing thoracic surgery. Dexmedetomidine seemed to affect emergence agitation through catecholamines, but not through an anti-inflammatory action.

Trial registration Clinical Research Information Service (KCT 0001877); registered 7 April, 2016.

Utilisation peropératoire de la dexmédétomidine pour la prévention de l’agitation au réveil et du delirium postopératoire en chirurgie thoracique: essai randomisé contrôlé



Nous avons cherché à savoir si l’utilisation préventive de dexmédétomidine au cours de la chirurgie pouvait réduire la survenue de l’agitation au réveil et du delirium postopératoire.


Dans cette étude randomisée, contrôlée à double insu, 143 patients subissant une résection pulmonaire par thoracoscopie ont été randomisés dans un groupe recevant dexmédétomidine-sévoflurane (DEX-Sévo, n = 73) ou dans un groupe recevant seulement du sévoflurane (Sévo, n = 70). L’administration de dexmédétomidine ou de solution saline a débuté après l’induction de l’anesthésie et a continué jusqu’à la fin de l’intervention à une dose fixe de 0,5 µg·kg−1·h−1. Le critère d’évaluation principal était l’incidence du delirium jusqu’à la fin du 3e jour postopératoire. La survenue de l’agitation au réveil et du delirium postopératoire a été mesurée avec, respectivement, l’échelle d’agitation sous sédation de Riker et la méthode d’évaluation de la confusion. Les critères d’évaluation secondaires étaient les taux sériques de cytokines et de catécholamines.


La survenue d’une agitation au réveil a été moins fréquente dans le groupe DEX-Sévo que dans le groupe Sévo (respectivement, 13 % contre 35 %; risque relatif, 0,38; intervalle de confiance [IC] à 95 % : 0,18 à 0,79; P = 0,011), mais l’incidence du delirium après congé de la salle de réveil n’a pas été différente entre les groupes (DEX-Sévo 25 % contre Sévo 25 %). Les taux de cytokines pro- et anti-inflammatoires ont tous deux été plus bas dans le groupe DEX-Sévo que dans le groupe Sévo. Néanmoins, les ratios d’interleukines (IL) IL-6/IL-10 (différence entre médianes, 5,8; IC à 95 %, 1,8 à 10,0; P = 0,012) et IL-8/IL-10 (différence des médianes, 0,8; IC à 95 %, 0,2 à 1,3; P = 0,007) ont été plus élevés dans le groupe DEX-Sévo que dans le groupe Sévo indiquant un équilibre des cytokines pro-inflammatoires dans le groupe DEX-Sévo. Les taux de norépinéphrine et d’épinéphrine ont été inférieurs dans le groupe DEX-Sévo que dans le groupe Sévo (P < 0,001 pour les deux).


La dexmédétomidine peropératoire a réduit la survenue de l’agitation au réveil, mais pas du delirium postopératoire chez des patients subissant une chirurgie thoracique. La dexmédétomidine a semblé interférer sur la survenue de l’agitation par le biais des catécholamines, mais pas par un effet anti-inflammatoire.

Enregistrement de l’essai clinique Service d’information sur la recherche clinique (KCT 0001877); enregistré le 7 avril 2016.



The authors thank Kyunga Kim, PhD (Statistics and Data Center, Research Institute for Future Medicine, Samsung Medical Center, Seoul, South Korea) for statistical analysis, and Miyeon Kang and Mijung Oh (the Basic Research Support Center at Samsung Biomedical Research Institute) for immunologic analysis.

Conflicts of interest

None declared.

Editorial responsibility

:This submission was handled by Dr. Philip M. Jones, Associate Editor, Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.

Author contributions

All authors were involved in the study design, planning, study conduct, data analysis, revising, and drafting the manuscript.


This study was supported by Samsung Medical Center grant [# OTA1503201].

Supplementary material

12630_2019_1299_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (132 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 132 kb)


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Copyright information

© Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, Samsung Medical CenterSungkyunkwan University School of MedicineSeoulSouth Korea

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