I rank Atropine 12 out of the 33 drugs we carry.
Aside from routine use in cardiac arrest, I use Atropine two or three times a year for patients with symptomatic bradycardia. I have no reason to believe it does any good at all in cardiac arrest, but as far as symptomatic bradycardia, as long as the patient is not in a third-degree block, I have had good success with Atropine.
Earlier in my career, I used Atropine a bit more, but that was before I knew that many people thanks to beta blockers had every day pulses in the high 40′s, low 50′s. I also used to more readily give it to a patient having an MI (heart attack), which can increase their oxygen demand and cause more damage. Now I only give it to patients having an MI if they are hypoperfusing. Ah, the learning curve.
The best bradycardia calls are for the patient passed out in the bathroom. You find them on the floor, cold and clammy, no pressure, pulse in the 20′s. Straining to go to the bathroom, their vagus nerve overpowered them, knocking their heart rate down and they lacked the ability to rebound on their own. We used to give a full amp of Atropine, now we give 0.5, and if that doesn’t work another 0.5 mg, etc. A couple times I have given the full 1 mg by mistake. Old dogs. Still the drug works well, the pulse picks up, the patient wakes up, the skin colors up and drys out and all is well in paramedic land. “You fixed them,” the doctor says to me in the ED. Music to my ears.
If I don’t have atropine in my kit, I can always pace the patient. Other options are Dopamine and an epi drip.
We can also give Atropine to organophosphate poisionings, but I have never had one.
Atropine (Atropine Sulfate)
Action: Blocks acetylcholine (ACh) at muscarinic sites
Indication: Symptomatic bradyarrhythmias
Contraindication: Relative contraindication wide complex bradycardia in the setting of acute ischemic chest pain
Side effects: Tachyarrhythmias
Exacerbation of Glaucoma
Precipitation of myocardial ischemia
Dose: Bradyarrhythmias – 0.5mg , may repeat every 3-5 minutes
Asystole – 1mg IV MR (May repeat) IV q 3-5 minutes (total max. dose 3mg)
Organophosphate poisonings – 1mg – 2mg; may repeat as needed
Route: IV push
Pedi dose: 0.02mg/kg IV