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Sedation is the act of calming by administration of a sedative. A sedative is a medication that commonly induces the nervous system to calm.


The process of sedation has two primary intentions. First, sedation is recommended to allow patients the ability to tolerate unpleasant diagnostic or surgical procedures and to relieve anxiety and discomfort. Second, sedation for uncooperative patients may expedite and simplify special procedures that require little or no movement. Additionally, sedation is often desirable to diminish fear associated with operative procedures. Sedation is typically used for common diagnostic tests that require prolonged immobilization such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed axial tomography (CAT) scanning. Some cases that require sedation may also necessitate the use of analgesics to decrease pain associated with a procedure or test.


Benzodiazepines (common sedative medication) have a cumulative effect. This means that if the patient has not had time to metabolize the previous dose and ingests more, then the sedative effect may increase. Because of these additive effects, these medications taken with other sedatives or alcohol (also a sedative hypnotic drug) may increase chances for accidental death. In general, most of the medications that induce sedation may alter breathing and cardiac stability. In patients with preexisting lung and/or heart disease, these medications should be monitored closely or not prescribed.


The future of anesthetic care involves the simultaneous administration of several drugs including IV medications and inhaled anesthetics. An extensive survey of death in 100,000 cases published in 1988 revealed that death within seven days was 2.9 times greater when one or two anesthetic drugs were used than when using three or more medications. As of 2000 this study is accepted as standard practice and multiple IV anesthetics is the preferable recommendation for optimal patient care.

The procedure for sedation is usually explained to the patient by an attending clinician. An IV access line is set in place for fluid replacement and injection of medications. A history is usually taken to assess risk and choice of medication. The patient typically signs consent forms and the possible side effects are explained. The day before the test, the patient may be required to maintain specified dietary restriction.

For outpatient surgery there are two types of sedation, conscious and unconscious sedation. Patients receiving conscious sedation are capable of rational responses, and they are able to maintain their airway for ventilation. The hallmark of conscious sedation is that it does not alter respiratory, cardiac, or reflex functions (nerve reflexes from the brain) to the level that requires external support for these vital functions. Patients receiving conscious sedation are cooperative, have stable vital signs (pulse, respiratory rate, and temperature), shorter recovery room convalescence, and lower risk of developing drug-induced complications. Unconscious sedation is a controlled state of anesthesia, characterized by partial or complete loss of protective nerve reflexes, including the ability to independently breathe and respond to commands. The patient is unable to cooperate, has labile (fluctuating) vital signs, prolonged recovery room convalescence, and higher risk of anesthetic complications.


Usually procedures for conscious sedation do not require preoperative or pre-testing orders. Clinical situations for unconscious sedation typically involve eating and drinking protocols starting the day before the procedure.

The age and physical status of the patient is useful in determining sensitivity. A detailed past history, especially prior experiences with sedatives and other anesthetics is an important part of preparatory assessment. It is important to determine if there were any untoward side effects associated with a previous medication. Patient positioning is important to prevent blood pressure changes or nerve damage associated with abnormal position.

Patients are also monitored for pulse rate, respiration, blood pressure, and temperature. Additionally, the heart is monitored using electrocardiography (ECG). Ventilation is assessed using a pulse oximeter. This machine is clipped with a special probe on one finger and can measure the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which are reliable indicators of respiratory status.


The major goal for recovery room monitoring is assessment of residual drug effects. Recovery room monitoring primarily focuses on heart stability, respiratory adequacy and return to previous brain functioning.


The original forms of diazepam (Valium, a very common sedative) caused irritation of veins and phlebitis. Newer forms of diazepam (Dizac) are chemically improved to lower the possibility of vein irritation. Age and physical health are important risk factors. Preexisting medical conditions such as high blood pressure and heart and lung disease may increase the chance of developing undesirable side effects.

Normal results

Normal or uncomplicated results for sedation include alleviation of anxiety and discomfort. Coupled with analgesic, patients are usually pain-free. The normal progression post procedure or post operatively would be to return to baseline brain functioning, unassisted breathing, and normal heart rate and rhythm.

Abnormal results

Patients may have excessive nausea and vomiting associated with narcotic analgesia (if this is indicated). Excessive drowsiness can occur secondary to benzodiazepine-induced sedation. The patient can also develop hypoventilation (a decrease in ventilation), airway obstruction, high or low blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, and shivering.


Baseline A return to an original state.

Diazepam One of the most commonly used sedative-hypnotic medications.



Fleisher, Gary R., et al. Textbook of Pediatric Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Lippincott Wlliams & Wilkins, 2000.

Miller, Ronald D., et al, editors. Anesthesia. 5th ed. Churchill Livingstone, Inc., 2000.

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se·da·tion / siˈdāshən/ • n. the administering of a sedative drug to produce a state of calm or sleep: he was distraught with grief and under sedation.

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sedation (si-day-shŏn) n. the production of a restful state of mind, particularly by the use of drugs (see sedative).