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Methylphenidate 'speeds recovery from general anaesthetic'

Wednesday 21st September 2011
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A common stimulant could be used to quicken recovery from general anesthesia, new research indicates.

According to a study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital, while drugs are available to counteract many agents used by anaesthesiologists, there has so far been no breakthrough as to how to reverse unconsciousness caused by general anaesthesia.

Senior author Emery Brown noted that in line with current practises, anaesthesiologists just allow the drugs to wear off until the patient regains consciousness.

However, if humans were able to recover faster from anaesthetics, complications such as delirium and cognitive dysfunction could be reduced.

In the animal study, which was published in journal Anesthesiology, stimulant drug methylphenidate (Ritalin) was proven to be able to speed up recovery from general anaesthesia.

Experiments showed that when methylphenidate was given to rats five minutes before the discontinuation of isoflurane, they recovered significantly faster than their counterparts who instead received a saline injection.

Furthermore, administration of the drug caused signs of waking in animals who were also being given a dose of isoflurane sufficient to maintain their unconsciousness.

Brain rhythms associated with arousal returned within 30 seconds of receipt of the stimulant, it was found.

Lead and corresponding author Ken Solt commented: "Since we still know very little about the pathways involved in general anesthesia, we will be testing the actions of methylphenidate with other anaesthetic agents to see if these arousal effects are broadly applicable."

Methylphenidate is typically used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

It works by affecting arousal-associated pathways controlled by neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and histamine.

In other news, new technology designed to cut intraoperative awareness has been deemed no more effective than cheaper alternatives.

According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, using a BIS monitor to track the patient's brainwaves with a disposable sensor, was no better at decreasing pain than cheaper methods.

Written by Mathew Horton
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