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Dexmedetomidine versus intermittent morphine for sedation of neonates with encephalopathy undergoing therapeutic hypothermia



In March 2019, the sedative in the therapeutic hypothermia protocol at Bellevue Hospital Center and NYU Langone Health changed from morphine to dexmedetomidine. This study evaluated the impact of this change on efficacy and safety parameters.

Study design

This was a retrospective, observational cohort study including neonates with HIE undergoing therapeutic hypothermia (N = 70) at two regional perinatal medical centers.


Baseline demographics, pain scores, hemodynamics, and time to enteral feeds were similar between dexmedetomidine (N = 34) and morphine (N = 36) patients. Dexmedetomidine patients received more breakthrough morphine (0.13 ± 0.13 vs 0.04 ± 0.09 mg/kg, p = 0.001), but less cumulative morphine (0.13 ± 0.13 vs 1.79 ± 0.23 mg/kg, p < 0.0001). Morphine patients on invasive ventilation required increased support (0 vs 31.58%, p = 0.02).


Dexmedetomidine is effective and safe for sedation and analgesia during therapeutic hypothermia. It reduced total opioid usage, with no increased incidence of adverse events.

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Fig. 1: Median N-PASS scores during therapeutic hypothermia.
Fig. 2: Mean heart rate during therapeutic hypothermia.
Fig. 3: Mean arterial pressure during therapeutic hypothermia.
Fig. 4: Mean oxygen saturation during therapeutic hypothermia.


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Correspondence to Anna S. Cosnahan.

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Cosnahan, A.S., Angert, R.M., Jano, E. et al. Dexmedetomidine versus intermittent morphine for sedation of neonates with encephalopathy undergoing therapeutic hypothermia. J Perinatol 41, 2284–2291 (2021).

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