Prescription Drug Information: Atracurium Besylate

ATRACURIUM BESYLATE- atracurium besylate injection, solution
Meitheal Pharmaceuticals Inc.

meitheal® Rx only

This drug should be used only by adequately trained individuals familiar with its actions, characteristics, and hazards.


Atracurium besylate is an intermediate-duration, nondepolarizing, skeletal muscle relaxant for intravenous administration. Atracurium besylate is designated as 2-(2-Carboxyethyl)-1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-6,7-dimethoxy-2-methyl-1-veratrylisoquinolinium benzenesulfonate, pentamethylene ester. It has a molecular weight of 1243.49, and its molecular formula is C65 H82 N2 O18 S2 . The structural formula is:

Structural Formula
(click image for full-size original)

Atracurium besylate is a complex molecule containing four sites at which different stereochemical configurations can occur. The symmetry of the molecule, however, results in only ten, instead of sixteen, possible different isomers. The manufacture of atracurium besylate results in these isomers being produced in unequal amounts but with a consistent ratio. Those molecules in which the methyl group attached to the quaternary nitrogen projects on the opposite side to the adjacent substituted-benzyl moiety predominate by approximately 3:1.

Atracurium Besylate Injection, USP is a sterile, non-pyrogenic aqueous solution. Each mL contains 10 mg atracurium besylate. The pH is adjusted to 3.25 to 3.65 with benzenesulfonic acid. The multiple dose vial contains 0.9% benzyl alcohol added as a preservative. Atracurium besylate injection slowly loses potency with time at the rate of approximately 6% per year under refrigeration (5°C). Atracurium besylate injection should be refrigerated at 2° to 8°C (36° to 46°F) to preserve potency. Rate of loss in potency increases to approximately 5% per month at 25°C (77°F). Upon removal from refrigeration to room temperature storage conditions (25°C / 77°F), use atracurium besylate injection within 14 days even if re-refrigerated.


Atracurium besylate is a nondepolarizing skeletal muscle relaxant. Nondepolarizing agents antagonize the neurotransmitter action of acetylcholine by binding competitively with cholinergic receptor sites on the motor end-plate. This antagonism is inhibited, and neuromuscular block reversed, by acetylcholinesterase inhibitors such as neostigmine, edrophonium, and pyridostigmine.

Atracurium can be used most advantageously if muscle twitch response to peripheral nerve stimulation is monitored to assess degree of muscle relaxation.

The duration of neuromuscular block produced by atracurium is approximately one-third to one-half the duration of block by d-tubocurarine, metocurine, and pancuronium at initially equipotent doses. As with other nondepolarizing neuromuscular blockers, the time to onset of paralysis decreases and the duration of maximum effect increases with increasing atracurium doses.

The ED95 (dose required to produce 95% suppression of the muscle twitch response with balanced anesthesia) has averaged 0.23 mg/kg (0.11 to 0.26 mg/kg in various studies). An initial atracurium dose of 0.4 to 0.5 mg/kg generally produces maximum neuromuscular block within 3 to 5 minutes of injection, with good or excellent intubation conditions within 2 to 2.5 minutes in most patients. Recovery from neuromuscular block (under balanced anesthesia) can be expected to begin approximately 20 to 35 minutes after injection. Under balanced anesthesia, recovery to 25% of control is achieved approximately 35 to 45 minutes after injection, and recovery is usually 95% complete approximately 60 to 70 minutes after injection. The neuromuscular blocking action of atracurium is enhanced in the presence of potent inhalation anesthetics. Isoflurane and enflurane increase the potency of atracurium and prolong neuromuscular block by approximately 35%; however, halothane’s potentiating effect (approximately 20%) is marginal (see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION).

Repeated administration of maintenance doses of atracurium has no cumulative effect on the duration of neuromuscular block if recovery is allowed to begin prior to repeat dosing. Moreover, the time needed to recover from repeat doses does not change with additional doses. Repeat doses can therefore be administered at relatively regular intervals with predictable results. After an initial dose of 0.4 to 0.5 mg/kg under balanced anesthesia, the first maintenance dose (suggested maintenance dose is 0.08 to 0.10 mg/kg) is generally required within 20 to 45 minutes, and subsequent maintenance doses are usually required at approximately 15 to 25 minute intervals.

Once recovery from atracurium’s neuromuscular blocking effects begins, it proceeds more rapidly than recovery from d-tubocurarine, metocurine, and pancuronium. Regardless of the atracurium dose, the time from start of recovery (from complete block) to complete (95%) recovery is approximately 30 minutes under balanced anesthesia, and approximately 40 minutes under halothane, enflurane or isoflurane. Repeated doses have no cumulative effect on recovery rate.

Reversal of neuromuscular block produced by atracurium can be achieved with an anticholinesterase agent such as neostigmine, edrophonium, or pyridostigmine, in conjunction with an anticholinergic agent such as atropine or glycopyrrolate. Under balanced anesthesia, reversal can usually be attempted approximately 20 to 35 minutes after an initial atracurium besylate dose of 0.4 to 0.5 mg/kg, or approximately 10 to 30 minutes after a 0.08 to 0.10 mg/kg maintenance dose, when recovery of muscle twitch has started. Complete reversal is usually attained within 8 to 10 minutes of the administration of reversing agents. Rare instances of breathing difficulties, possibly related to incomplete reversal, have been reported following attempted pharmacologic antagonism of atracurium-induced neuromuscular block. As with other agents in this class, the tendency for residual neuromuscular block is increased if reversal is attempted at deep levels of block or if inadequate doses of reversal agents are employed.

The pharmacokinetics of atracurium in humans are essentially linear within the 0.3 to 0.6 mg/kg dose range. The elimination half-life is approximately 20 minutes. THE DURATION OF NEUROMUSCULAR BLOCK PRODUCED BY ATRACURIUM BESYLATE DOES NOT CORRELATE WITH PLASMA PSEUDOCHOLINESTERASE LEVELS AND IS NOT ALTERED BY THE ABSENCE OF RENAL FUNCTION. This is consistent with the results of in vitro studies which have shown that atracurium is inactivated in plasma via two nonoxidative pathways: ester hydrolysis, catalyzed by nonspecific esterases; and Hofmann elimination, a nonenzymatic chemical process which occurs at physiological pH. Some placental transfer occurs in humans.

Radiolabel studies demonstrated that atracurium undergoes extensive degradation in cats, and that neither kidney nor liver plays a major role in this elimination. Biliary and urinary excretion were the major routes of excretion of radioactivity (totaling >90% of the labeled dose within 7 hours of dosing), of which atracurium represented only a minor fraction. The metabolites in bile and urine were similar, including products of Hofmann elimination and ester hydrolysis.

Elderly patients may have slightly altered pharmacokinetic parameters compared to younger patients, with a slightly decreased total plasma clearance which is offset by a corresponding increase in volume of distribution. The net effect is that there has been no significant difference in clinical duration and recovery from neuromuscular block observed between elderly and younger patients receiving atracurium besylate.

Atracurium is a less potent histamine releaser than d-tubocurarine or metocurine. Histamine release is minimal with initial atracurium besylate doses up to 0.5 mg/kg, and hemodynamic changes are minimal within the recommended dose range. A moderate histamine release and significant falls in blood pressure have been seen following 0.6 mg/kg of atracurium besylate. The histamine and hemodynamic responses were poorly correlated. The effects were generally short-lived and manageable, but the possibility of substantial histamine release in sensitive individuals or in patients in whom substantial histamine release would be especially hazardous (e.g., patients with significant cardiovascular disease) must be considered.

It is not known whether the prior use of other nondepolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents has any effect on the activity of atracurium. The prior use of succinylcholine decreases by approximately 2 to 3 minutes the time to maximum block induced by atracurium besylate, and may increase the depth of block. Atracurium should be administered only after a patient recovers from succinylcholine-induced neuromuscular block.


Atracurium besylate injection is indicated, as an adjunct to general anesthesia, to facilitate endotracheal intubation and to provide skeletal muscle relaxation during surgery or mechanical ventilation.


Atracurium besylate is contraindicated in patients known to have a hypersensitivity to it. Use of atracurium besylate from multiple dose vials containing benzyl alcohol as a preservative is contraindicated in patients with a known hypersensitivity to benzyl alcohol.




Atracurium has no known effect on consciousness, pain threshold, or cerebration. It should be used only with adequate anesthesia.

Atracurium besylate injection, which has an acid pH, should not be mixed with alkaline solutions (e.g., barbiturate solutions) in the same syringe or administered simultaneously during intravenous infusion through the same needle. Depending on the resultant pH of such mixtures, atracurium may be inactivated and a free acid may be precipitated.

Atracurium besylate injection 10 mL multiple dose vials contain benzyl alcohol. In neonates, benzyl alcohol has been associated with an increased incidence of neurological and other complications which are sometimes fatal. Atracurium besylate 5 mL single use vials do not contain benzyl alcohol (see PRECAUTIONS, Pediatric Use).


Severe anaphylactic reactions to neuromuscular blocking agents, including atracurium besylate, have been reported. These reactions have in some cases been life-threatening and fatal. Due to the potential severity of these reactions, the necessary precautions, such as the immediate availability of appropriate emergency treatment, should be taken. Precautions should also be taken in those individuals who have had previous anaphylactic reactions to other neuromuscular blocking agents since cross-reactivity between neuromuscular blocking agents, both depolarizing and non-depolarizing, has been reported in this class of drugs.

Risk of Death Due to Medication Errors

Administration of atracurium besylate injection results in paralysis, which may lead to respiratory arrest and death; this progression may be more likely to occur in a patient for whom it is not intended. Confirm proper selection of intended product and avoid confusion with other injectable solutions that are present in critical care and other clinical settings. If another healthcare provider is administering the product, ensure that the intended dose is clearly labeled and communicated.


Since allergic cross-reactivity has been reported in this class, request information from your patients about previous anaphylactic reactions to other neuromuscular blocking agents. In addition, inform your patients that severe anaphylactic reactions to neuromuscular blocking agents, including atracurium besylate have been reported.


Although atracurium is a less potent histamine releaser than d-tubocurarine or metocurine, the possibility of substantial histamine release in sensitive individuals must be considered. Special caution should be exercised in administering atracurium to patients in whom substantial histamine release would be especially hazardous (e.g., patients with clinically significant cardiovascular disease) and in patients with any history (e.g., severe anaphylactoid reactions or asthma) suggesting a greater risk of histamine release. In these patients, the recommended initial atracurium besylate dose is lower (0.3 to 0.4 mg/kg) than for other patients and should be administered slowly or in divided doses over one minute.

Since atracurium has no clinically significant effects on heart rate in the recommended dosage range, it will not counteract the bradycardia produced by many anesthetic agents or vagal stimulation. As a result, bradycardia during anesthesia may be more common with atracurium than with other muscle relaxants.

Atracurium may have profound effects in patients with myasthenia gravis, Eaton-Lambert syndrome, or other neuromuscular diseases in which potentiation of nondepolarizing agents has been noted. The use of a peripheral nerve stimulator is especially important for assessing neuromuscular block in these patients. Similar precautions should be taken in patients with severe electrolyte disorders or carcinomatosis.

Multiple factors in anesthesia practice are suspected of triggering malignant hyperthermia (MH), a potentially fatal hypermetabolic state of skeletal muscle. Halogenated anesthetic agents and succinylcholine are recognized as the principal pharmacologic triggering agents in MH-susceptible patients; however, since MH can develop in the absence of established triggering agents, the clinician should be prepared to recognize and treat MH in any patient scheduled for general anesthesia. Reports of MH have been rare in cases in which atracurium has been used. In studies of MH-susceptible animals (swine) and in a clinical study of MH-susceptible patients, atracurium did not trigger this syndrome.

Resistance to nondepolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents may develop in burn patients. Increased doses of nondepolarizing muscle relaxants may be required in burn patients and are dependent on the time elapsed since the burn injury and the size of the burn.

The safety of atracurium has not been established in patients with bronchial asthma.

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