A sedative is a substance that induces sedation by reducing irritability or excitement.
At higher doses it may result in slurred speech, staggering gait, poor judgment, and slow, uncertain reflexes.
Doctors often administer sedatives to patients in order to dull the patient's anxiety related to painful or anxiety-provoking procedures.
Although sedatives do not relieve pain in themselves, they can be a useful adjunct to analgesics in preparing patients for surgery, and are commonly given to patients before they are anaesthetized, or before other highly uncomfortable and invasive procedures like cardiac catheterization , colonoscopy or MRI.
They increase tractability and compliance of children or troublesome or demanding patients.
Patients in intensive care units are almost always sedated (unless they are unconscious from their condition anyway).
Doses of sedatives such as benzodiazepines when used as a hypnotic to induce sleep tend to be higher than those used to relieve anxiety where as only low doses are needed to provide calming sedative effects.
Sedatives can be abused to produce an overly-calming effect (alcohol being the classic and most common sedating drug).
At high doses or when they are abused, many of these drugs can cause unconsciousness and even death.
There is some overlap between the terms sedative and hypnotic. Although the effects described by the two terms are different, the medications that cause the effects described by one term often also cause the effects described by the other term.
However, advances in pharmacology have permitted more specific targeting of receptors, and greater selectivity of agents, which necessitates greater precision when describing these agents and their effects:
- Anxiolytic refer specifically to the effect upon anxiety. (However, some benzodiazipines are sedatives, hypnotics, and anxiolytics.)
- Tranquilizer can refer to anxiolytics or antipsychotics.
- Soporific and sleeping pill are near-synonyms for hypnotics.
Sedation can sometimes leave the patient with long-term or short-term amnesia.
Lorazepam is one such pharmacological agent that can cause anterograde amnesia. Intensive care unit patients who receive higher doses over longer periods of time, typically via IV drip, are more likely to experience such side effects.
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Last Updated: Oct 8, 2014