Pharmacokinetic properties and tolerability of single-dose terbutaline in patients with severe asthma treated in the pediatric intensive care unit

Daniel J. Lebovitz, Paul G. Smith, Maryann O'Riordan, Michael D. Reed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Asthmatic children requiring treatment in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) receive aggressive drug therapy that may include IV administration of β 2-receptor agonists to prevent progression to life-threatening respiratory failure. The only pharmacologic agent in this class currently available for parenteral use in the United States is terbutaline. Study of IV dosing of terbutaline in the pediatric population has been limited. Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the pharmacokinetic (PK) properties and tolerability of single-dose terbutaline in pediatric patients across a broad age range who were admitted to the PICU and were receiving maximal conventional asthma drug therapy. Methods: This study was conducted at the PICU at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital (Cleveland, Ohio). Patients aged 6 months to 16 years with severe exacerbation of reactive airways disease and who were undergoing maximal conventional therapy and had an arterial catheter were enrolled. Patients were arbitrarily assigned to receive a single IV infusion of 1 of 3 doses of terbutaline (10, 20, or 30 μg/kg), infused over 5 minutes. Blood samples were obtained for the determination of plasma terbutaline concentrations just before terbutaline was administered (baseline), immediately on completion of the IV infusion, and at 10, 20, and 40 minutes and 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 48, and 72 hours after the 5-minute infusion. PK properties (elimination half-life [tl2], mean residence time [MRT], apparent steady-state volume of distribution [Vd ss], and total body clearance [CI]) were determined and adverse effects were recorded. Results: The determination of terbutaline PK properties was possible in 50 of 56 enrolled patients (31 boys, 19 girls; mean [SD] age, 6.5 [4.5] years). The PK properties of terbutaline were linear over the dose range studied and, with the exception of the expected dose-dependent increases in peak terbutaline plasma concentration and area under the terbutaline plasma concentration-time curve, no statistically significant differences were observed in PK relative to dose. Therefore, we pooled the data for all subsequent analyses. Statistically significant correlations with patient age were observed with tl2 (r = 0.4, P < 0.006), MRT (r = 0.4, P < 0.002), and Vdss (r = 0.33, P < 0.02), but not C1 (r = -0.03, P = NS). Single-dose terbutaline administration was generally well tolerated. Conclusions: Single-dose IV terbutaline was well tolerated in this study. In maximally treated asthmatic patients in the PICU, terbutaline elimination may be more rapid than in nonacutely ill children. These PK data suggest that if the drug is to be administered intravenously, the continuous IV infusion method, including loading doses for any subsequent dose escalations, may be the most appropriate. The influence of age and safety of long-term, continuous terbutaline IV infusion requires further study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-109
Number of pages12
JournalCurrent Therapeutic Research - Clinical and Experimental
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004


  • asthma
  • children
  • intensive care
  • pharmacokinetics
  • terbutaline


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