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What Is Ketamine Used For?

If you have an upcoming medical or dental procedure, your healthcare provider may administer ketamine. This anesthetic is typically used for short-term procedures, as its effects last between 5 and 25 minutes. It works by producing a general state of anesthesia (loss of sensation and awareness) and pain relief. Possible "off-label" uses for ketamine include treating certain types of depression or migraine headaches.

An Introduction to Uses for Ketamine

Ketamine hydrochloride (Ketalar®) is an injectable prescription medication approved for the following uses:
  • Anesthesia before medical procedures that do not require the skeletal muscles to be relaxed
  • To induce anesthesia (to "put you under") before other general anesthetics are administered
  • As an additional anesthetic in combination with certain low-potency anesthetics.
Ketamine is injected intravenously (IV, or into a vein) or intramuscularly (IM, or into a muscle) in a healthcare setting, by healthcare providers who are trained in administering anesthetics.
The U.S. Food and Drug administration (FDA) classifies ketamine as a Schedule III controlled substance. This means there are strict laws controlling how it is obtained and used. Ketamine is sometimes used illicitly as a recreational drug, with the street names of "K" or "Special K." It is illegal to use ketamine in this manner.

Using Ketamine for Anesthesia

Anesthesia is given before surgery or other medical procedures to block sensation. This helps prevent you from feeling pain during the procedure. There are different types of anesthesia, including local, regional, and general anesthesia.
Local and regional anesthesia are used to block pain in specific areas of the body. If you receive these types of anesthesia, you will stay awake during your procedure but will not feel any pain. General anesthesia affects the entire body; you are unconscious and do not feel or remember anything from the procedure.
Medicines used for anesthesia are called anesthetics. Ketamine is a general anesthetic that can be used alone or in combination with other anesthetic medicines. It is best for short procedures that do not require skeletal-muscle relaxation. This is because ketamine does not relax the muscles, as it is a short-acting anesthetic. Its anesthetic effects generally last about 5 to 10 minutes when given by IV and 15 to 25 minutes when given by IM injection; ketamine can be used for longer procedures if additional doses are given.
Ketamine may be used for many different kinds of surgeries or procedures, including outpatient and inpatient surgeries. Some of the medical procedures this anesthetic may be used for include:
  • Skin procedures, such as painful dressing changes or skin grafting in burn victims
  • Procedures of the eyes, ears, nose, or mouth
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Gynecologic procedures, such as a dilatation and curettage (commonly called a D&C, used to diagnose or treat abnormal bleeding)
  • Procedures used to diagnose problems in the brain or spinal cord
  • Cardiac catheterization.
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