What Is Propofol?

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  • Written By: K.C. Bruning
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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Propofol is an intravenous hypnotic drug. It is used for anesthesia and sedation. The drug has also been prescribed with other opioid drugs for pain relief. It is marketed under the product name Diprivan®.

This medication sedates the body by reducing activity in the nervous system and brain. It does this by blocking the sodium channels that propel reactions to stimulation and increasing the activity of receptors that calm the body. The drug is also believed to affect endocannabinoids which can slow the receptors responsible for brain activity.

Propofol usually takes effect within seconds and lasts a few minutes. It must be continually administered in order to maintain sedation. In some instances a patient may be given lidocaine before the injection in order to manage potential vein pain during administration. Injecting the drug into larger veins can also help reduce pain.

In many areas, propofol has become a preferred drug for sedation and anesthesia. This is partly because it achieves sedation easily and comfortably for most patients. It also tends to have a low incidence of adverse side effects compared to similar drugs, such as sodium thiopental, that were once more commonly used for the same purpose. Recovery from the injection is often faster and easier as well.


Due to the depressant effect it has on the body, it is particularly important to administer propofol where there are proper resources for resuscitation. Equipment may be needed for ventilation, oxygen supplementation, or cardiovascular problems. It is also vital that the attending staff be properly trained in reacting quickly to the various adverse side effects possible with an injection.

Propofol can be a higher risk for certain patients. It is not advised for pregnant or nursing women. The drug is also not safe for children under three years of age. Though elderly patients can receive the drug, it is typically advised that they be given a reduced dose.

Some of the mild potential side effects of propofol include itching, skin rash, numbness, or tingling. A patient may also feel anxiety or confusion. Other symptoms include a cough, nausea, or muscle pain.

More serious side effects of propofol should be reported to a doctor as soon as possible. They include shallow breathing, abnormally fast or slow heartbeat, and seizures. Dramatic or painful skin changes at the site of the injection should also receive immediate treatment. Any symptoms of an allergic reaction to the drug should receive emergency attention. They include breathing difficulties, swelling in any areas from the neck up, and hives.


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