One of propofol's most common side effects is pain on injection, especially in smaller veins. This pain arises from activation of the pain receptor, TRPA1, found on sensory nerves and can be mitigated by pretreatment with lidocaine. Less pain is experienced when infused at a slower rate in a large vein (antecubital fossa). Patients show considerable variability in their response to propofol, at times showing profound sedation with small doses.
Additional side effects include low blood pressure related to vasodilation, transient apnea following induction doses, and cerebrovascular effects. Propofol has more pronounced hemodynamic effects relative to many intravenous anesthetic agents. Reports of blood pressure drops of 30% or more are thought to be at least partially due to inhibition of sympathetic nerve activity. This effect is related to the dose and rate of propofol administration. It may also be potentiated by opioid analgesics. Propofol can also cause decreased systemic vascular resistance, myocardial blood flow, and oxygen consumption, possibly through direct vasodilation.There are also reports that it may cause green discolouration of the urine.
Although propofol is heavily used in the adult ICU setting, the side effects associated with propofol seem to be of greater concern in children. In the 1990s, multiple reported deaths of children in ICUs associated with propofol sedation prompted the FDA to issue a warning.
As a respiratory depressant, propofol frequently produces apnea. The persistence of apnea can depend on factors such as premedication, dose administered, and rate of administration, and may sometimes persist for longer than 60 seconds. Possibly as the result of depression of the central inspiratory drive, propofol may produce significant decreases in respiratory rate, minute volume, tidal volume, mean inspiratory flow rate, and functional residual capacity.
Diminishing cerebral blood flow, cerebral metabolic oxygen consumption, and intracranial pressure are also characteristics of propofol administration.In addition, propofol may decrease intraocular pressure by as much as 50% in patients with normal intraocular pressure.
A more serious but rare side effect is dystonia.Mild myoclonic movements are common, as with other intravenous hypnotic agents. Propofol appears to be safe for use in porphyria, and has not been known to trigger malignant hyperpyrexia.
Propofol is also reported to induce priapism in some individuals,and has been observed to suppress REM sleep stage and to worsen the poor sleep quality in some patients.
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