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Side Effects


The most important adverse reactions to sodium nitroprusside are the avoidable ones of excessive hypotension and cyanide toxicity, described above under WARNINGS. The adverse reactions described in this section develop less rapidly and, as it happens, less commonly.

Methemoglobinemia: As described in CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY above, sodium nitroprusside infusions can cause sequestration of hemoglobin as methemoglobin. The back-conversion process is normally rapid, and clinically significant methemoglobinemia ( > 10%) is seen only rarely in patients receiving NITROPRESS (nitroprusside sodium) . Even patients congenitally incapable of back-converting methemoglobin should demonstrate 10% methemoglobinemia only after they have received about 10 mg/kg of sodium nitroprusside, and a patient receiving sodium nitroprusside at the maximum recommended rate (10 mcg/kg/min) would take over 16 hours to reach this total accumulated dose.

Methemoglobin levels can be measured by most clinical laboratories. The diagnosis should be suspected in patients who have received > 10 mg/kg of sodium nitroprusside and who exhibit signs of impaired oxygen delivery despite adequate cardiac output and adequate arterial pO2. Classically, methemoglobinemic blood is described as chocolate brown, without color change on exposure to air. When methemoglobinemia is diagnosed, the treatment of choice is 1-2 mg/kg of methylene blue, administered intravenously over several minutes. In patients likely to have substantial amounts of cyanide bound to methemoglobin as cyanmethemoglobin, treatment of methemoglobinemia with methylene blue must be undertaken with extreme caution.

Thiocyanate Toxicity: As described in CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY above, most of the cyanide produced during metabolism of sodium nitroprusside is eliminated in the form of thiocyanate. When cyanide elimination is accelerated by the co-infusion of thiosulfate, thiocyanate production is increased.

Thiocyanate is mildly neurotoxic (tinnitus, miosis, hyperreflexia) at serum levels of 1 mmol/L (60 mg/L). Thiocyanate toxicity is life-threatening when levels are 3 or 4 times higher (200 mg/L).

The steady-state thiocyanate level after prolonged infusions of sodium nitroprusside is increased with increased infusion rate, and the half-time of accumulation is 3-4 days. To keep the steady-state thiocyanate level below 1 mmol/L, a prolonged infusion of sodium nitroprusside should not be more rapid than 3 mcg/kg/min; in anuric patients, the corresponding limit is just 1 mcg/kg/min. When prolonged infusions are more rapid than these, thiocyanate levels should be measured daily.

Physiologic maneuvers (e.g., those that alter the pH of the urine) are not known to increase the elimination of thiocyanate.

Thiocyanate clearance rates during dialysis, on the other hand, can approach the blood flow rate of the dialyzer.

Thiocyanate interferes with iodine uptake by the thyroid.

Abdominal pain, apprehension, diaphoresis, “dizziness,” headache, muscle twitching, nausea, palpitations, restlessness, retching, and retrosternal discomfort have been noted when the blood pressure was too rapidly reduced. These symptoms quickly disappeared when the infusion was slowed or discontinued, and they did not reappear with a continued (or resumed) slower infusion. Other adverse reactions reported are:

Cardiovascular: Bradycardia, electrocardiographic changes, tachycardia.

Dermatologic: Rash.

Endocrine: Hypothyroidism.

Gastrointestinal: Ileus.

Hematologic: Decreased platelet aggregation.

Neurologic: Increased intracranial pressure.

Miscellaneous: Flushing, venous streaking, irritation at the infusion site.

Read the Nitropress (nitroprusside sodium) Side Effects Center for a complete guide to possible side effects


The hypotensive effect of sodium nitroprusside is augmented by that of most other hypotensive drugs, including ganglionic blocking agents, negative inotropic agents, and inhaled anesthetics.

Last reviewed on RxList: 4/7/2009
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.

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