Inhalational Anaesthetic Agents

Describe the effects of inhalational agents on the cardiovascular, respiratory and central nervous systems

Describe the toxicity of inhalational agents

Describe the comparative pharmacology of nitrous oxide, halothane, enflurane, isoflurane, desflurane, sevoflurane, xenon and ether

This section covers features and structures of inhalational anaesthetics. Structure-activity relationships are covered under inhalational anaesthetics.

Common Features of Inhalational Agents

Property Action
Metabolism Hepatic CYP450 (CYP2E1) metabolises C-halogen bonds to release halogen ions (F-, Cl-, Br-), which can be nephrotoxic and hepatotoxic. The C-F bond is minimally metabolised compared to the C-Cl, C-Br, and C-I bonds. All agents undergo hepatic oxidation, except for halothane which is reduced.
Resp All halogenated agents ↓ VT and ↑ RR, with an overall ↓ in MV and therefore cause PaCO2 to ↑; and ↓ sensitivity of central respiratory centres to CO2. Impairment of HPV may worsen V/Q matching and ↑ shunt.
CVS MAP (predominantly by ↓ in SVR due to NO release and Ca2+ channel blockade), ↓ inotropy due to Ca2+ channel blockade.
CNS Hypnosis. ↓ CMRO2. Above 1 MAC there is uncoupling of the CBF-CMRO2 relationship, and CBF ↑ despite ↓ CMRO2 due to cerebral vasodilation. ICP may mirror CBF changes.

All except halothane have some analgesic effect. ↓ EEG frequency such that θ- and δ-wave dominate the EEG as depth ↑. May cause burst suppression.
MSK Muscle relaxation via blockade of Ca2+ channels. Additional augmentation of the effects of NMBD due to skeletal muscle vasodilation. May precipitate MH.
Renal Dose dependent ↓ in RBF, GFR, and UO secondary to ↓ in MAP and CO.

Fluorinated ethers produce F- ions when hepatically metabolised, which may produce high-output renal failure at serum concentrations >50μmol/L. This is probably only a concern with methoxyflurane (as it has significant (>70%) hepatic metabolism) when used at anaesthetic doses.
GIT ↓ Hepatic blood flow.
GU Tocolysis.
Toxic Effects Decreased fertility and increased risk of spontaneous abortion in operating theatre personnel.

Comparison of Common Inhalational Agents

Property Sevoflurane Isoflurane Desflurane
Pharmaceutics Minimally soluble, light stable, not flammable. Formulated with 300ppm of H2O to prevent formation of HF acid by Lewis acids in glass. Soluble in rubber, light stable, not flammable. Light sensitive, flammable at 17%.
Molecular Weight 200.1 184.5 168.0
Boiling point 58.5°C 48.5°C 23.5°C
SVP (mmHg) at 20°C 158 239 669
Blood:gas coefficient 0.7 1.4 0.42
Oil:gas coefficient 50 98 29
MAC 2 1.15 6.6
Metabolism 3-5% CYP2E1 metabolism to hexafluoroisopropanol and inorganic F- (which may be nephrotoxic) 0.2% hepatic to nontoxic metabolites
Resp Bronchodilation, ↓ MV. Smallest ↓ in VT and therefore smallest ↑ in PaCO2 Bronchodilation, airway irritability. ↓ MV (greater than halothane) with ↑ in RR Airway irritability manifest as coughing and breath-holding, ↑ secretions
CVS ↑ QT, ↓ SVR causing ↓ MAP without a reflex ↑ HR. Inotropy unchanged. Smallest ↓ in BP of any inhalational agent. Reflex ↑ HR due to ↓ MAP from ↓ SVR. Small ↓ inotropy and CO, equivalent to sevoflurane but greater than desflurane. May cause coronary steal. Minimal ↓ inotropy (least of all inhalational agents), but greater ↓ in SVR and BP than sevoflurane. ↑ in HR, with a bigger increase at >1.5 MAC.

Large ↑ in SNS tone with rapid ↑ in desflurane concentration.
CNS ↑ Post-operative agitation in children compared to halothane. Smallest ↑ in CBF at > 1.1 MAC, with no increase in ICP up to 1.5 MAC. Cerebral autoregulation intact up to 1.5 MAC. Best balance of ↓ CMRO2 for ↑ in CBF.
Toxic Effects Sevoflurane interacts with soda lime to produce Compound A (as well as B through E, which are unimportant), which is nephrotoxic in rats (but not, it seems, in humans). -CHF2 group may react with dry soda lime to produce CO. Desflurane has much greater greenhouse gas effects than sevoflurane or isoflurane.

Comparison of Uncommon Inhalational Agents

Property Enflurane Halothane Xenon
Pharmaceutics Structural isomer of isoflurane with different physical properties Light unstable. Corrodes some metals and dissolves into rubber. Not flammable. Very expensive to produce.
Molecular Weight 184.5 197 131
Boiling point 56.5°C 50.2°C -108°C
SVP (mmHg) at 20°C 175 243 -
Blood:gas coefficient 1.8 2.4 0.14
Oil:gas coefficient 98 224 1.9
MAC 1.7 0.75 71
Metabolism ~25% undergoes oxidative phosphorylation by CYP450 systems, producing trifluoroacetic acid, which binds to protein and can cause a T-cell mediated hepatitis, which can be fatal in ~1/10,000 anaesthetics. Not metabolised.
Resp Largest ↓ in VT, therefore largest ↑ in PaCO2 ↑ In RR, ↓ in VT with overall unchanged PaCO2 RR, ↑ in VT such that MV is constant. 3x as dense and 1.5x as viscous as N2O, which increases effective airway resistance. Does not appear to cause diffusion hypoxia.
CVS Greatest ↓ in inotropy, HR, SVR, and MAP. Significant ↑ in catecholamine sensitivity. More stable MAP, ↓ HR
CNS Produces 3Hz "spike and wave" EEG pattern at high concentrations, resembling grand mal seizures Greatest ↑ in CNS blood flow at > 1.1 MAC Analgesic, ↑ PONV
MSK Muscle relaxation when >60%. Does not trigger MH.
Renal Direct nephrotoxicity, potentially related to fluoride (though this association is not present with other anaesthetic agents)
GU Least tocolytic effect
Toxic effects Produces F- ions Hepatic damage may be:
- Reversible transaminitis
- Fulminant hepatic necrosis, with a mortality of 50-75%.


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Last updated 2017-10-08

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