Effect of dexmedetomidine on heart rate in neonates with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy undergoing therapeutic hypothermia

Elliott, M., Burnsed, J., Heinan, K., Letzkus, L., Andris, R., Fairchild, K., Zanelli, S. | JNPM 2022;

Abstract: BACKGROUND: Sedation is recommended to optimize neuroprotection in neonates with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) undergoing therapeutic hypothermia (TH). Dexmedetomidine is an alternative agent to opioids, which are commonly used but have adverse effects. Both TH and dexmedetomidine can cause bradycardia. In this study, we describe our experience with dexmedetomidine and fentanyl in neonates undergoing TH for HIE, with a focus on heart rate (HR). METHODS: We performed a retrospective chart review from 2011–2019 at a level IV NICU comparing sedation with dexmedetomidine (n = 14), fentanyl (n = 120), or both (n = 32) during TH for HIE. HR trends were compared based on sedation and gestational age. Neonates were included if they underwent TH and received sedation and were excluded if cooling was initiated past 24hours (h) from birth or if they required ECMO. RESULTS: Of the 166 neonates included, 46 received dexmedetomidine, 14 as monotherapy and 32 in combination with fentanyl. Mean hourly HR from 12–36 h after birth was significantly lower for infants on dexmedetomidine versus fentanyl monotherapy (91±9 vs. 103±11 bpm, p < 0.002). Dexmedetomidine was decreased or discontinued in 22 (47.8%) neonates, most commonly due to inadequate sedation with a low HR. Lower gestational age was associated with higher HR but no significant difference in dexmedetomidine-related HR trends. CONCLUSIONS: Despite an association with lower HR, dexmedetomidine may be successfully used in neonates with HIE undergoing TH. Implementation of a standardized protocol may facilitate dexmedetomidine titration in this population.

*Corresponding Author: 

Megan Elliott, MD, University of Virginia Hospital, PO Box 800386, Charlottesville VA 22908, USA. Tel.: +1 248 568 2707; E-mail: mkr5k@virginia.edu.