Ketamine Infusion Therapy for Chronic Pain: How it Works

Ketamine Infusion Therapy for Chronic Pain: How it Works

Chronic pain is something many people live with; it disrupts normal activities, work, and social activities. Some treatments ease chronic pain for a short time, but it's often hard to find a long-term treatment that works.

Ketamine infusion therapy has popped up all over the United States, promising to reduce chronic pain after only one treatment significantly — but how does this miracle drug work?

The experienced team at Delmarva Pain and Spine Center applies various approaches to chronic pain, including ketamine infusion therapy.

Dr. Shachi Patel is our board-certified pain management specialist who provides ketamine infusion therapy to patients struggling with chronic pain.

What is ketamine?

Ketamine is a drug the FDA approved in 1970 for use as a dissociative anesthetic agent. Its primary use was to provide patients with reactive airway disease and other airway problems an option for sedation and relaxation during surgical procedures where other anesthetic agents weren't an option.

However, after several decades, people began abusing ketamine for its hallucinogenic effects, getting high on the drug and giving ketamine a lousy name.

In small, controlled doses, though, ketamine has many proven uses for helping manage treatment-resistant depression and, more recently, intractable chronic pain.

During an IV ketamine infusion, we provide small doses of medical ketamine in a controlled setting to provide quick and efficient chronic pain relief.

How ketamine works

Ketamine works on specific brain areas to produce analgesia, short-term memory loss, and sedation. It specifically targets the NMDA receptors in the brain, which are like switches that glutamate, a neurotransmitter, controls.

Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that activates the NMDA receptors to produce an awake and alert feeling. Ketamine blocks glutamate from reaching the NMDA receptors, which results in drowsiness and decreased alertness.

The way ketamine works on the NMDA receptors and glutamate perfectly shows why anesthesiologists use it as an anesthetic agent. However, it's come a long way; we now know it also works for chronic pain.

Ketamine for chronic pain

Although it's an off-label use, meaning the FDA hasn't approved the drug for this reason, doctors all over the US use ketamine for chronic pain — but how does it work in this capacity?

Ketamine's main target is the NMDA receptors in the brain; in higher doses, though, researchers believe it also acts on the opioid receptors, which reduces pain sensations throughout the body.

IV ketamine infusions may also work by blocking the potassium and sodium channels in the brain, which is how most local anesthetics work to reduce pain.

While ketamine blocks glutamate in the brain, it may also increase levels of another neurotransmitter called GABA. Unlike glutamate, GABA produces sensations of relaxation and slows down the body.

Ketamine seems a good option for pain management when living with chronic neuropathic pain or complex regional pain syndrome, where other medications or therapies haven't worked to reduce discomfort.

What to expect from a ketamine infusion

At Delmarva Pain and Spine Center, Dr. Patel uses IV ketamine infusions to relieve patients with treatment-resistant pain. However, she also uses it for people living with treatment-resistant depression.

During an IV ketamine infusion, we put an intravenous line into your arm and attach it to fluids. We place you on a heart monitor to evaluate your vital signs during the infusion, ensuring your safety.

When you're comfortable, Dr. Patel begins the infusion, with a nurse monitoring you during the duration of the treatment.

Most people experience immediate relief of symptoms, although you may require repeat infusions to keep your pain from returning.

After the infusion, we monitor you for a short while longer, and then someone can drive you home to relax. The effects can sometimes last for several hours, days, or weeks.

Call our office in Newark, Delaware, today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Patel for ketamine infusions, or book an appointment on the website.

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