What are the Different Types of ACLS Drugs?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Drugs medical care providers may use in advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) include medications that control heart rhythm and blood pressure, counteract drug overdoses, and correct imbalances in the patient's blood chemistry. When people receive ACLS training, it includes a discussion of available drugs and their risks and benefits so people know when drugs are necessary and how to use them appropriately. Ambulances and medical kits may carry ACLS drugs if care providers qualified to use them are available and hospitals usually stock them on anesthesia and “crash” carts.

ACLS drugs can be used to counteract the effect of drugs taken by an overdose victim.
ACLS drugs can be used to counteract the effect of drugs taken by an overdose victim.

In advanced cardiac life support, care providers use more interventions than available with basic life support (BLS). The goal is to stabilize the patient, addressing problems with airway, breathing, and circulation, to allow care providers to perform more advanced treatment. People may need ACLS drugs if they have abnormal heart rates, are clearly experiencing bad reactions to medications, or cannot be roused. Some ACLS drugs can be dangerous and they may be kept in a secure location to make sure they are not accidentally used on patients, as drugs for things like heart rhythm can be fatal in patients who do not need them.

Rhythm control drugs like atropine, diltiazem, adenosine epinephrine, amiodarone, lidocaine, nitroglycerine, and digitalis are available to correct arrhythmias, stimulate the heart, or slow the heart down if it is beating too fast. If a patient has blood pressure problems, drugs like vasopressin are available, along with fluids to increase blood volume with the goal of increasing pressure. Some ACLS drugs to manage the heart can also affect blood pressure and may be used for either.

ACLS drugs to treat patients in overdose are also available. These medications counteract the drugs the patient has taken. In some cases, sedation may be necessary to address some of the symptoms of overdose, like controlled muscle spasms. Patients exposed to toxins can also require antitoxins as part of ACLS so they can survive to receive more treatment.

Blood chemistry can also be a problem. ACLS drugs like magnesium sulfate and calcium chloride can help adjust the patient's blood chemistry to get the heart working properly, as can electrolytes for patients in severe dehydration. Clinical interventions can bring the patient out of cardiac or respiratory arrest, allowing care providers to transport the patient and provide additional care like surgery and other measures. The ACLS process can involve a number of people including doctors and nurses, with one person supervising to make sure interventions occur in a timely and orderly fashion.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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