Current pharmacotherapy for the treatment of severe burns

Kevin D. Murphy, Jong O. Lee, David N. Herndon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


The pharmacotherapy of burn care has evolved from the first topical antibiotics instituted > 30 years ago. These have helped greatly to reduce the incidence of burn wound sepsis, but a better understanding of the principles of burn care has resulted in earlier burn wound excision and complete coverage with autograft, cadaver skin, synthetic dressings, and amnion. This has markedly reduced septic complications and ameliorated the hypermetabolic response to burn injury. The hypermetabolic response, which is mediated by hugely increased levels of circulating catecholamines, prostaglandins, glucagon and cortisol, causes profound skeletal muscle catabolism, immune deficiency, peripheral lipolysis, reduced bone mineralisation, reduced linear growth, and increased energy expenditure. Supportive therapy and pharmacological manipulation, acutely and during rehabilitation, with growth hormone, insulin and related proteins, oxandrolone and propranolol can ameliorate the hypermetabolic response, improving survival and long-term outcome. Despite judicious use of topical and systemic antibiotics, opportunistic nosocomial bacterial resistance threatens to annul the improved survival of patients with severe burns. Patterns of emerging resistance encountered in burn units need to be considered, in light of a decreasing antibiotic armamentarium. A holistic approach to pharmacotherapy of severely burned patients including current practice in antimicrobial control, analgesia, sedation, and anxiety management is required. Current therapy of frequently encountered problems, such as post-burn pruritus, prophylaxis of deep venous thrombosis and peptic ulceration, and pharmacological manipulation of inhalation injury in the burned patient is described. Current pharmacotherapy to ameliorate psychosocial problems associated with burns such as acute stress disorder, depression and post traumatic stress disorder are discussed. Better analgesics, newer antibiotics and immune stimulating drugs are required to reduce mortality and morbidity in large burns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-384
Number of pages16
JournalExpert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2003


  • Antibiotics
  • Burns
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Sepsis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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