Esmolol for refractory VF

Already well publicised on social media, the team at Hennepin County published a retrospective comparison between patients with refractory VF who received esmolol with those who did not(1). The results are impressive and I look forward to further studies on this.

I work in an ED in a hospital with no cath lab and no access to extracorporeal life support, limiting our options for patients who remain in shockable rhythms despite ACLS interventions. We now have esmolol available in our resus room. You might want to keep it in your list of options for ACLS-refractory VF, which might also include double sequential external defibrillation(2) and even stellate ganglion block.

The dose of esmolol used was: loading dose 500 mcg/kg, followed by infusions of 0, 50, or 100 mcg/kg/min

An important point to note in the esmolol study is that almost all patients received high-quality mechanical CPR with the combined use of an impedence threshold device to augment venous return and cardiac output. The authors “speculate that this additional hemodynamic support may be essential given the hypotensive effects of esmolol.”

1. Use of esmolol after failure of standard cardiopulmonary resuscitation to treat patients with refractory ventricular fibrillation
Resuscitation. 2014 Oct;85(10):1337-41


INTRODUCTION: We compare the outcomes for patients who received esmolol to those who did not receive esmolol during refractory ventricular fibrillation (RVF) in the emergency department (ED).

METHODS: A retrospective investigation in an urban academic ED of patients between January 2011 and January 2014 of patients with out-of-hospital or ED cardiac arrest (CA) with an initial rhythm of ventricular fibrillation (VF) or ventricular tachycardia (VT) who received at least three defibrillation attempts, 300mg of amiodarone, and 3mg of adrenaline, and who remained in CA upon ED arrival. Patients who received esmolol during CA were compared to those who did not.

RESULTS: 90 patients had CA with an initial rhythm of VF or VT; 65 patients were excluded, leaving 25 for analysis. Six patients received esmolol during cardiac arrest, and nineteen did not. All patients had ventricular dysrhythmias refractory to many defibrillation attempts, including defibrillation after administration of standard ACLS medications. Most received high doses of adrenaline, amiodarone, and sodium bicarbonate. Comparing the patients that received esmolol to those that did not: 67% and 42% had temporary return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC); 67% and 32% had sustained ROSC; 66% and 32% survived to intensive care unit admission; 50% and 16% survived to hospital discharge; and 50% and 11% survived to discharge with a favorable neurologic outcome, respectively.

CONCLUSION: Beta-blockade should be considered in patients with RVF in the ED prior to cessation of resuscitative efforts.

2. Double Sequential External Defibrillation in Out-of-Hospital Refractory Ventricular Fibrillation: A Report of Ten Cases.
Prehosp Emerg Care. 2015 January-March;19(1):126-130


Background. Ventricular fibrillation (VF) is considered the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OOHCA) rhythm with the highest likelihood of neurologically intact survival. Unfortunately, there are occasions when VF does not respond to standard defibrillatory shocks. Current American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines acknowledge that the data are insufficient in determining the optimal pad placement, waveform, or energy level that produce the best conversion rates from OOHCA with VF.

Objective. To describe a technique of double sequential external defibrillation (DSED) for cases of refractory VF (RVF) during OOHCA resuscitation.

Methods. A retrospective case series was performed in an urban/suburban emergency medical services (EMS) system with advanced life support care and a population of 900,000. Included were all adult OOHCAs having RVF during resuscitation efforts by EMS providers. RVF was defined as persistent VF following at least 5 unsuccessful single shocks, epinephrine administration, and a dose of antiarrhythmic medication. Once the patient was in RVF, EMS personnel applied a second set of pads and utilized a second defibrillator for single defibrillation with the new monitor/pad placement. If VF continued, EMS personnel then utilized the original and second monitor/defibrillator charged to maximum energy, and shocks were delivered from both machines simultaneously. Data were collected from electronic dispatch and patient care reports for descriptive analysis.

Results. From 01/07/2008 to 12/31/2010, a total of 10 patients were treated with DSED. The median age was 76.5 (IQR: 65-82), with median resuscitation time of 51minutes (IQR: 45-62). The median number of single shocks was 6.5 (IQR: 6-11), with a median of 2 (IQR: 1-3) DSED shocks delivered. VF broke after DSED in 7 cases (70%). Only 3 patients (30%) had ROSC in the field, and none survived to discharge.

Conclusion. This case series demonstrates that DSED may be a feasible technique as part of an aggressive treatment plan for RVF in the out-of-hospital setting. In this series, RVF was terminated 70% of the time, but no patient survived to discharge. Further research is needed to better understand the characteristics of and treatment strategies for RVF.

One thought on “Esmolol for refractory VF”

  1. Hi Cliff,

    Nice timing for this post. Matt & Mike posted my storm case cast earlier same day. My case took place just before the idea of Esmolol for this indication really started to be tossed around. Seems like it might be even more perfect for the pt (as in my case) who is in true VFib storm (in and out), as opposed to just refractory fib. If I had that same case today, I’d probably try it as a last resort. The concept makes a lot of sense. Having said that, and I love that the Hennepin guys looked at this, but I think we need to be careful before jumping the gun on the idea. (I think they’d agree) This study is extremely limited. The numbers were very small. It was a retrospective study. There was no blinding or randomization. There were serious confounders: For instance: 83% of the Esmolol group went for Emergent Cath vs 16% in the “Control” group. Therapeutic hypothermia was used in 67% vs 26% respectively.

    Again, as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted, I see little downside even without great evidence. But without better evidence not sure if we should be pushing this after 2 or 3 episodes (shocks). I am hopeful and looking forward to future studies on this. The recent study by Morelli et al re: Esmolol in sepsis w/Norepi showed that Esmolol probably fares well in sick pts for the purpose of blunting deleterious sympathetic effects. We need better data for Esmolol in Refractory V-Fib/Storm.

    -Sam

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