New research is suggesting that a mild sedative could reduce the risk of delirium following an operation by up to 65 percent.
A study conducted by scientists at the Imperial College London and Peking University First Hospital, shows that giving patients a mild sedative after they undergo an operation would significantly reduce the risk of the patient having confusion and hallucinations, a condition that one in three people suffer following a major operation.
“Post-operative delirium is a huge challenge for the medical community and incredibly distressing for patients and their families,” Professor Daqing Ma, co-lead author of the new study from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, said in a statement. “In many cases patients become almost child-like, and do not understand where they are, what is happening, and become very upset.
“Hospital staff have also been injured by delirious patients becoming aggressive. However, we currently have no treatments options available for this condition.”
Post-operative delirium typically occurs within the first two days of a patient waking up from general anesthetic with symptoms ranging from not knowing their name or where they are to more severe symptoms including aggressive behavior, believing people are trying to harm them or hallucinations. The conditions can last anywhere from a few hours to days.
While the cause of post-operation delirium is still unknown, the research shows that the use of the sedative helps the brain “recover and reset” following surgery. This can be especially helpful for older patients as the risk of delirium increases with age and strikes more often following major and lengthy operations.
During the study, scientists at the Peking University First Hospital in Beijing assessed 700 patients, aged 65 and older, who were about to undergo major surgery. Half of the patients received a low dose sedative called dexmedetomidine after the operation, while the other half of patients received a salt-water placebo.
The study resulted in only 9 percent of patients who received the sedative developing the condition, while 23 percent of the patients in the placebo group developed conditions consistent with delirium.
One of the theories as to why sedatives were effective is because patients often struggle to sleep after operations and dexmedetomidine can actually mimic the natural state the brain enters during sleep.
A byproduct of the study also showed that patients who took the sedative developed fewer post-operative complications than the placebo group and were ultimately discharged earlier.
“There is still much more work to do around post-operative delirium, as we still don’t fully understand what is happening in the brain, and why some patients are more at risk,” Ma said. “However, these findings suggest this sedative may be a potential method of preventing post-operative delirium in some patients.”
The research group will now test the long-term benefits of the sedative.
Filed Under: Drug Discovery