Etomidate for RSI: Seizure Considerations


  1. Rapid sequence intubation (RSI) is a process whereby an induction agent and a neuromuscular blocking agent are given in rapid succession to facilitate endotracheal intubation
  2. The selection of a specific sedative depends on multiple factors: the clinical scenario, which includes patient factors (includes cardiorespiratory and neurologic status, allergies, comorbidity) and the clinician’s experience/training and institutional factors, as well as the characteristics of the sedative
  3. Etomidate remains the most commonly used induction agent; however, it is not without its own pharmacologic considerations such the decrease in seizure threshold.


Dose0.3 mg/kg IV  
AdministrationIV push
Formulation*20 mg/ 10 ml 40 mg/ 20ml 
PK/PDOnset: ~20 seconds  
Duration: 4-10 minutes  
Metabolism: Hydrolysis of the ethylester side  
Renal Excretion: 75%
Adverse EffectsInjection site pain, nausea, vomiting, myoclonus
Drug Interactions No major reactions
CompatibilityIncompatible with vitamin c and vecuronium
CommentsThere is hypothetical concerns about adrenal insufficiency with a single dose. Hemodynamically neutral
*Various formulations may appear, check you institution formulary

DrugHemodynamic EffectComments
Etomidate↔ BP, ↔ CO, ↔ HR,  ↓ cortisol , ↔ ICPProlonged inhibition of steroid synthesis in the critically ill; withdrawn from number of countries
Ketamine↑BP, ↑ HR, ↑ CO, ↔ cortisol, ↑↓ ICP↔  or ↑ CPP and ↔ ICP with standard anesthetic management
Propofol↓ BP, ↔ HR,↓ CO, ↔ cortisol, ↓ ICPHemodynamic compromise marked in elderly, ASA 3 or more or hypovolemic patients with ‘standard’ induction dose

Overview of Evidence

Author, year Design/ sample sizeIntervention & ComparisonOutcome
Perier et al,2018Retrospective N=97Etomidate vs sodium thiopental for RSI in patients with convulsive status epilepticus•       Seizure and/or status epilepticus recurred in 13 (56%) patients in the etomidate group and 11 patients (44%) in the sodium thiopental group
Gabor,2006Retrospective N=301 mg/kg of propofol or 0.2 mg/kg of etomidate for electroconvulsive therapy•       After etomidate induction, seizure durations registered either by EEG or by EMG were longer than propofol treated cases.
Zuckerbraun et al, 2006Retrospective N=101Etomidate for RSI in general population•       There was no relationship between seizures after etomidate administration and prior seizure history (p = 0.25).
Guldner,2003Retrospective N=105Etomidate for RSI in general population•       Complications included three patients who vomited within 10 minutes of etomidate administration. There were no cases of documented myoclonus, status epilepticus, or new-onset seizures.
Reddy,1993Prospective randomized study N=68Etomidate, thiopental, methohexital or propofol for anesthesia inductionSpontanous movement (myoclonic, dystonic or tremor): Etomidate 86%, thiopental 16.6%, methohexital 12.5%, propofol 5.5% EEG activity: 2 patients receiving etomidate, no generalized epileptiform activity noted
Ebrahim,  1986Case reports N=12etomidate for anesthesia induction in patient with intractable seizuresElectroencephalograms were recorded by means of subdural electrodes.  Nine of the 12 patients showed an increase in epileptiform activity.  In six of the nine patients, the activity was marked.
Krieger,1985Letter to editor N=55Etomidate for anesthesia induction or to activate seizure focus25 patients had epilptiform activity associated with etomidate administration 6/30 patients had generalized epileptiform activity noted on EEG
Grant,1983Case series N=4Etomidate infusion for sedation in ICUGeneralized and focal seizures after variable periods of etomidate o          EEGs were not evaluated at the time of suspected seizure activity. Patients were on infusion for 6-28 hours at onset of seizure activity.
Ghonrim,1977Prospective randomized study N=120Etomidate or thiopental for anesthesia induction28% etomidate vs. 0% thiopental had myoclonic movements 11% etomidate vs. 1% thiopental had tonic movements No epileptiform discharges were noted in 10 patients who had EEG monitoring


  • Etomidate is a commonly used induction agent for RSI in emergency settings. Etomidate has been shown to elicit myoclonus in a significant number of patients. However, whether myoclonus is associated with EEG confirmed epileptiform activities remains uncertain. To make matters worse, depending on the origin and type of seizure, it may be challenging for EEG to differentiate between non-seizure and seizure activity during myoclonic events.
  • Due to the low level of evidence, the patients with a history of seizures should have the risk versus benefit assessment to determine the best induction agent.


  1. Micromedex [Electronic version].Greenwood Village, CO: Truven Health Analytics. Retrieved September 6, 2021, from http://www.micromedexsolutions.com/
  2. Perier F. Seizure. 2018 Oct;61:170-176. PMID: 30176574.
  3. Zuckerbraun NS. Acad Emerg Med. 2006 Jun;13(6):602-9. PMID: 16636355.
  4. Grant IS, et al. Epileptiform seizures during prolonged etomidate sedation. Lancet 1983; 322(8348):511-2.
  5. Guldner G, et al.. Acad Emerg Med 2003; 10:134—139.
  6. Reddy RV, et al.. Anesth Analg 1993; 77:1008-11.
  7. Ebrahim ZY, et al. . Anesth Analg 1986; 65:1004-6.
  8. Krieger W, et al K. Seizures with etomidate anesthesia [letter]. Anesthesiol Analg. 1985; 64:1226–7.
  9. Ghoneim MM, Anesth Analg 1977; 56:479-85.
  10. Gabor G. Neuropsychopharmacol Hung 2007; 9(3):125-30.

Related Articles

Single-Dose Aminoglycosides for UTIs

Ratione molestias magnam quisquam non non dolores omnis incidunt et accusamus eum rerum quam ipsum impedit a ea excepturi et ut reprehenderit tempore repudiandae et illum autem exercitationem eos similique ad quos deleniti quo exercitationem molestiae maxime occaecati culpa ducimus aut repudiandae accusamus aliquam qui praesentium qui deserunt fugiat corrupti voluptatem quia qui deserunt modi dicta ad consequatur quia nobis architecto rerum et facilis.


Leave a Reply