Muscle relaxants in surgical anesthesia increases risk of postoperative breathing troubles


The use of muscle relaxant drugs as part of a surgical anesthetic treatment increases the likelihood a patient will experience breathing troubles after the procedure.

According to a report from on a new study from Massachusetts General Hospital, the use of intermediate-acting, non-depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents increased the risk of a patient suffering hypoxic breathing episodes following their surgery. Patients who receive these drugs face a greater risk of postoperative oxygen desaturation and reintubation after they’ve been extubated following a surgery.

The study from Massachusetts General Hospital appears in full in the latest edition of British Medical Journal.

Using intermediate-acting, non-depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents is designed to immobilize a patient who is not “out cold” from a deep anesthesia. When a surgery is completed and patient is recovering, these intermediate-acting, non-depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents’ effects linger and create breathing problems for some patients.  In response to previous risks of hypoxia caused by these drugs, shorter-acting drugs have been created to help reduce these risks but the threat still remains.

Some common intermediate-acting, non-depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents used in surgeries include cisatracurium, rocuronium, mivacurium, and vecuronium. There is not enough research available on these shorter-acting intermediate-acting, non-depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents to determine if they absolutely lower the risks of hypoxia to patients.