Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Proposed 2015 ACLS Epinephrine Recommendation – Vasopressors for cardiac arrest (1. Epi v Placebo)

What do the AHA (American Heart Association) and ILCOR (International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation) plan to make their recommendation on use of epinephrine (Adrenaline in Commonwealth countries) in cardiac arrest (ACLS – Advanced Cardiac Life Support)?

Full Question:
Among adults who are in cardiac arrest in any setting (P), does does use of epinephrine (I), compared with placebo or not using epinephrine (C), change Survival with Favorable neurological/functional outcome at discharge, 30 days, 60 days, 180 days AND/OR 1 year, Survival only at discharge, 30 days, 60 days, 180 days AND/OR 1 year, ROSC (O)?

The information provided is currently in DRAFT format and is NOT a FINAL version[1]


Unless you are familiar with the way AHA/ILCOR ask questions, this may not seem to be a helpful way of addressing the question. Here is the format being used –






The Patients are adults who are in cardiac arrest in any setting.

The Intervention is use of epinephrine.

The Comparison is placebo or not using epinephrine.

The Outcome is a bit complicated – Survival with Favorable neurological/functional outcome at discharge, 30 days, 60 days, 180 days AND/OR 1 year, Survival only at discharge, 30 days, 60 days, 180 days AND/OR 1 year, ROSC. ROSC is Return Of Spontaneous Circulation.

Everything is reasonable – until they get to the outcome. Does anyone still think that it is really an improvement to get pulses back, be transported to the hospital, never wake up, and die in the ED (Emergency Department) or ICU (Intensive Care Unit)? What if the coma lasts for 30 days, 60 days, 180 days AND/OR 1 year. If you think that is an improvement, you may not have considered the cost. How much is it worth to give a family false hope? $10,000? Who pays for this deception?

Should we also try putting the patient in a helicopter to see if the magic rotor blades make the family feel that everything possible was done to deceive them?

These are considered to be important, because we do not seem to know what is important.

Why are ROSC and survival to admission considered important?

Where is the evidence that these measurements lead to better outcomes?


Studies that look at these outcomes show that real world patients treated with epinephrine are more likely to die in the hospital – and those who do not die in the hospital are more likely to have severe neurological impairment.

Click on image to make it larger.[2] The studies are in the footnotes.[3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10]

Is Adrenaline beneficial in cardiac arrest?

Probably, but only for some patients and we do not know which patients benefit.

Is Adrenaline harmful in cardiac arrest?

Probably, but only for some patients and we do not know which patients are harmed.

The evidence evaluation focused on the Jacobs study,[8] which is randomized and placebo controlled, but only reaches the level of fair according to the analysis of all of the evidence. The reason is that politicians and the media combined to sabotage the study. Most of the ambulance services dropped out of the Jacobs study because of this interference. This is not the fault of Dr. Ian G. Jacobs, who deserves credit for setting up the first randomized placebo controlled study of this important topic.

For all four long term (critical) and short term (important) outcomes, we found one underpowered trial that provided low quality evidence comparing SDE to placebo (Jacobs, 2001, 1138).[1]


We need to bring back the Indeterminate class of recommendation for ACLS, because that is the best that we can come up with for epinephrine, unless we ignore the evidence or we just don’t understand the evidence.

Table 3.
Applying Classification of Recommendations and Level of Evidence

. . .

Class Indeterminate.
• Research just getting started
• Continuing area of research
• No recommendations until further research (eg, cannot recommend for or against)[11]


Does the proposed ACLS recommendation on epinephrine makes sense?

Consider that we do not know which patients benefit from epinephrine. The treatment for every cause of cardiac arrest includes epinephrine as the first drug, even if the cause of cardiac arrest is known to be an overdose of epinephrine.

Is epinephrine better than nothing for some patients in cardiac arrest? Yes.

Is epinephrine worse than nothing for some patients in cardiac arrest? Yes.

We do not know which patients we are harming with epinephrine and we don’t seem to want to stop harming those patients.


[1] Vasopressors for cardiac arrest (1. Epi v Placebo)
ILCOR Scientific Evidence Evaluation and Review System
Questions Open for Public Comment
Closing Date – February 28, 2015
Question page

[2] Vasopressors in cardiac arrest: a systematic review.
Larabee TM, Liu KY, Campbell JA, Little CM.
Resuscitation. 2012 Aug;83(8):932-9. Epub 2012 Mar 15.
PMID: 22425731 [PubMed – in process]

CONCLUSION: There are few studies that compare vasopressors to placebo in resuscitation from cardiac arrest. Epinephrine is associated with improvement in short term survival outcomes as compared to placebo, but no long-term survival benefit has been demonstrated. Vasopressin is equivalent for use as an initial vasopressor when compared to epinephrine during resuscitation from cardiac arrest. There is a short-term, but no long-term, survival benefit when using high dose vs. standard dose epinephrine during resuscitation from cardiac arrest. There are no alternative vasopressors that provide a long-term survival benefit when compared to epinephrine. There is limited data on the use of vasopressors in the pediatric population.

[3] High dose and standard dose adrenaline do not alter survival, compared with placebo, in cardiac arrest.
Woodhouse SP, Cox S, Boyd P, Case C, Weber M.
Resuscitation. 1995 Dec;30(3):243-9.
PMID: 8867714 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

[4] Adrenaline in out-of-hospital ventricular fibrillation. Does it make any difference?
Herlitz J, Ekström L, Wennerblom B, Axelsson A, Bång A, Holmberg S.
Resuscitation. 1995 Jun;29(3):195-201.
PMID: 7667549 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

[5] Survival outcomes with the introduction of intravenous epinephrine in the management of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.
Ong ME, Tan EH, Ng FS, Panchalingham A, Lim SH, Manning PG, Ong VY, Lim SH, Yap S, Tham LP, Ng KS, Venkataraman A; Cardiac Arrest and Resuscitation Epidemiology Study Group.
Ann Emerg Med. 2007 Dec;50(6):635-42. Epub 2007 May 23.
PMID: 17509730 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text Download in PDF format from prdupl02.ynet.co.il

[6] Intravenous drug administration during out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: a randomized trial.
Olasveengen TM, Sunde K, Brunborg C, Thowsen J, Steen PA, Wik L.
JAMA. 2009 Nov 25;302(20):2222-9.
PMID: 19934423 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text from JAMA

[7] Outcome when adrenaline (epinephrine) was actually given vs. not given – post hoc analysis of a randomized clinical trial.
Olasveengen TM, Wik L, Sunde K, Steen PA.
Resuscitation. 2011 Nov 22. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 22115931 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

[8] Effect of adrenaline on survival in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial
Jacobs IG, Finn JC, Jelinek GA, Oxer HF, Thompson PL.
Resuscitation. 2011 Sep;82(9):1138-43. Epub 2011 Jul 2.
PMID: 21745533 [PubMed – in process]

Free Full Text PDF Download from semanticscholar.org


This study was designed as a multicentre trial involving five ambulance services in Australia and New Zealand and was accordingly powered to detect clinically important treatment effects. Despite having obtained approvals for the study from Institutional Ethics Committees, Crown Law and Guardianship Boards, the concerns of being involved in a trial in which the unproven “standard of care” was being withheld prevented four of the five ambulance services from participating.


In addition adverse press reports questioning the ethics of conducting this trial, which subsequently led to the involvement of politicians, further heightened these concerns. Despite the clearly demonstrated existence of clinical equipoise for adrenaline in cardiac arrest it remained impossible to change the decision not to participate.


[9] Prehospital epinephrine use and survival among patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.
Hagihara A, Hasegawa M, Abe T, Nagata T, Wakata Y, Miyazaki S.
JAMA. 2012 Mar 21;307(11):1161-8. doi: 10.1001/jama.2012.294.
PMID: 22436956 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text from JAMA.

[10] Impact of early intravenous epinephrine administration on outcomes following out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.
Hayashi Y, Iwami T, Kitamura T, Nishiuchi T, Kajino K, Sakai T, Nishiyama C, Nitta M, Hiraide A, Kai T.
Circ J. 2012;76(7):1639-45. Epub 2012 Apr 5.
PMID: 22481099 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text from Circulation Japan.

[11] Table 3. Applying Classification of Recommendations and Level of Evidence
2005 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care
Part 1: Introduction
Table 3

I have modified this table solely for the purpose of clarity of presentation, by modifying color and font. None of the words have been changed.

Edited 12-27-2018 to correct link to pdf of Jacobs study in footnote 8.



  1. You are my hero!!!

    What a fantastic job of researching the evidence and pointing out the limitations and drawing the right conclusion. Great advocacy. Wish I had the time and commitment to put my money where my mouth is on this topic.

    Well, I guess I did in one way – I commented on ILOCR Seer site on topic: https://volunteer.heart.org/apps/pico/Pages/default.aspx

    Have you weighed in on this yet, Rogue?


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