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Ketamine infusion for sickle cell pain crisis refractory to opioids: a case report and review of literature


This article reports a rare case of the use of low-dose ketamine infusion as an adjuvant to opioids to treat pain in sickle cell disease. A 31-year-old African-American male with history of sickle cell disease presented to the emergency department with complaints of chest tightness, multiple joint pain, and headache for 1 week. His vital signs and physical examination were unremarkable. His admission lab included hemoglobin of 8.4 g/dl, reticulocyte count of 16.3 %, bilirubin of 1.7 mg/dl, and LDH of 1,267 U/l. Chest X-ray showed middle and lower lobe opacity and interstitial thickening. He was treated for acute pain crisis and community-acquired pneumonia with intravenous fluids, supplemental oxygen, and intravenous levofloxacin. He was placed on fentanyl patient-controlled analgesia (PCA), oxycodone, ketorolac, and methadone with co-analgesic gabapentin and venlafaxine. Over the course of his hospitalization, his chest pain resolved, but the joint pains continued. He was then transferred to the ICU and was discharged a day later after 7 days of ketamine infusion. Ketamine is a noncompetitive antagonist at the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. This property has been shown to modulate opioid tolerance and opioid-induced hyperalgesia. There have been a very few published reports on the use of low-dose ketamine in sickle cell pain management. A PubMed search revealed four published articles (Table 1). Fourteen out of the 17 cases (82.35 %) who received ketamine infusion showed improvement in self-reported pain intensity and significant reduction in opioid dosage. Only one patient (5.9 %) developed serious side effect leading to discontinuation of the drug. A low-dose ketamine can be an option for pain control in sickle cell disease. Randomized trial is required to establish this benefit of ketamine over currently available therapies.

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Conflict of interest

All the authors are an employee of the Abington Memorial Hospital. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Dipesh Uprety.

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Uprety, D., Baber, A. & Foy, M. Ketamine infusion for sickle cell pain crisis refractory to opioids: a case report and review of literature. Ann Hematol 93, 769–771 (2014).

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