Malignant Hyperthermia Studies

Call 801-484-3820

Activated Charcoal Effectively Removes Inhaled Anesthetics from Modern Anesthesia Machines
  1. Nathaniel Birgenheier, MD,
  2. Robert Stoker, BA,
  3. Dwayne Westenskow, PhD and
  4. Joseph Orr, PhD

Author Affiliations

  1. From the Department of Anesthesiology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  2. Address correspondence to Nathaniel Birgenheier, MD, University of Utah, 30 N. 1900 E., Room 3C-444, Salt Lake City, UT 84132


Introduction: If a malignant hyperthermia–susceptible patient is to receive an anesthetic, an anesthesia machine that has been used previously to deliver volatile anesthetics should be flushed with a high fresh gas flow. Conflicting results from previous studies recommend flush times that vary from 10 to 104 minutes. In a previously proposed alternative decontamination technique, other investigators placed an activated charcoal filter in the inspired limb of the breathing circuit.

Methods: We placed activated charcoal filters on both the inspired and expired limbs of several contaminated anesthesia machines and measured the time needed to flush the machine so that the delivered concentrations of isoflurane, sevoflurane, and desflurane would be <5 parts per million (ppm). We next simulated the case for which malignant hyperthermia is diagnosed 90 minutes after induction of anesthesia and measured how well activated charcoal filters limit further exposure.

Results: Activated charcoal filters decrease the concentration of volatile anesthetic delivered by a contaminated machine to an acceptable level in <2 minutes. The concentrations remained well below 5 ppm for at least 60 minutes. When malignant hyperthermia is diagnosed after induction of anesthesia, we found that with charcoal filters in place, the current anesthesia machine may be used for at least 67 minutes before the inspired concentration exceeds 5 ppm.

Conclusions: Activated charcoal filters provide an alternative approach to the 10 to 104 minutes of flushing that are normally required to prepare a machine that has been used previously to deliver a volatile anesthetic.

  • Accepted February 1, 2011.