Morphine: An Effective Abortive Therapy for Pediatric Paroxysmal Sympathetic Hyperactivity After Hypoxic Brain Injury

Deborah S Raithel, Kirsten H Ohler, Isabel Porto, Alma R Bicknese, Donna M Kraus

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Paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity (PSH) is a life-threatening condition characterized by hyperadrenergic activity and autonomic dysfunction. Also termed autonomic storms, PSH can occur after a variety of cerebral insults, most commonly traumatic brain injury. Limited pediatric literature is available, especially in patients with brain injury from hypoxia. No consensus exists for the terminology, diagnostic criteria, or treatment algorithm for PSH. Thus, the optimal management, including medication selection and dosing, remains unclear. We present the detailed treatment of a 9-year-old, African American male with hypoxic brain injury after pulseless arrest following status asthmaticus, who subsequently developed PSH. The patient began to experience episodes of tachycardia, hypertension, tachypnea, diaphoresis, rigidity, and dystonic posturing on hospital day 5. After ruling out other potential causes, a diagnosis of PSH was made. Episodes of PSH failed to respond to lorazepam or labetalol but were aborted successfully with morphine. Management of PSH after hypoxic brain injury required medications for acute treatment as well as for prevention of PSH. Morphine was found to be highly effective and safe for aborting the autonomic crises. Other agents more commonly described in the literature did not result in an adequate response and were associated with significant adverse effects. A combination of clonazepam, baclofen, and either propranolol or clonidine aided in reducing the frequency of episodes of PSH. We suggest using morphine for aborting severe episodes of PSH that do not respond to antihypertensive agents or benzodiazepines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-40
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 19 2015


  • Journal Article


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