A Retrospective Characterization of Dexmedetomidine-Suspected Fever and Its Consequences in Adult Critically Ill Patients

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Current evidence for dexmedetomidine-suspected fever (DSF) is limited. Lack of recognition may lead to costly or potentially harmful interventions for critically ill patients.


The primary objective was to characterize escalations of care related to DSF. Secondary objectives were to describe the incidence, severity, and consequences associated with DSF.


A retrospective review was conducted in critically ill adults who developed fever ≥39°C within 12 h from initiation of dexmedetomidine, with resolution of fever to <39°C within 12 h after discontinuation. The primary outcome was percentage of patients who received an escalation of care due to fever. Secondary outcomes included the percentage of patients who developed a multidrug-resistant organism or Clostridium difficile infection.


Eighteen of 3943 patients screened in 4099 encounters met criteria for DSF (0.4%). The majority were white (83.3%), male (66.7%), and underwent cardiac surgery (61.1%). Median (interquartile range [IQR]) time to fever onset and resolution were 5.5 (3.6-7.6) and 1.3 (1.0-2.9) h. Nine patients (50%) underwent infectious workup including antimicrobial initiation (n = 1, 5.6%), broadening of antimicrobials (n = 4, 22.2%), or culture collection (n = 9, 50%). Eleven patients (61.1%) underwent attempted temperature reduction. Twelve patients (66.7%) underwent diagnostic imaging. Incidence of multidrug-resistant organism and C. difficile infection were low (11.1 and 16.7% of fever patients, respectively).

Conclusion and Relevance:

Incidence of DSF was low and more common in cardiac surgery patients. Unrecognized DSF led to an escalation of care in most patients. Dexmedetomidine exposure should be considered as a potential cause of fever in critically ill adults.



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