Benefits and harms of sugammadex versus neostigmine in reversing induced paralysis


Different levels of induced paralysis are sometimes necessary when patients are put to sleep or are prepared for operations. When the operation is finished, paralysis should be reversed in a fast, reliable, and safe way. Neostigmine is a medication that is traditionally used to reverse induced paralysis. However, its use can be associated with incomplete or slow reversal as well as changes in lung function, heart function, and vomiting and nausea. Sugammadex is a relatively new medication specifically designed to reverse rocuronium-induced paralysis in a faster, more reliable, and safer way when compared with neostigmine.


This review systematically sets out to compare the benefits and harms of sugammadex and neostigmine. The evidence is current up to May 2017.

Study characteristics

We identified 41 randomized controlled trials comparing sugammadex with neostigmine that provided suitable data on efficacy and safety. All of these trials included adults undergoing surgery and involved a total of 4206 participants.

Key results

Data indicate that sugammadex was 10.22 minutes (6.6 times) faster than neostigmine (1.96 vs 12.87 minutes) in reversing moderate induced paralysis. Sugammadex was 45.78 minutes (16.8 times) faster than neostigmine (2.9 vs 48.8 minutes) in reversing deep induced paralysis. Participants receiving sugammadex appeared to have a 40% reduced risk of experiencing harmful events than those given neostigmine. Statistically, eight persons can be treated with sugammadex as opposed to neostigmine to avoid one person experiencing a single random harmful event. The occurrence of serious harmful events was nearly non-existent and data show no differences between compared groups.


Sugammadex is more efficient and safer than neostigmine for reversing moderate and deep induced paralysis.

Quality of evidence

We consider our overall findings on benefits and harms to provide evidence of moderate quality in favour of sugammadex.

Authors' conclusions: 

Review results suggest that in comparison with neostigmine, sugammadex can more rapidly reverse rocuronium-induced neuromuscular block regardless of the depth of the block. Sugammadex 2 mg/kg is 10.22 minutes (~ 6.6 times) faster in reversing moderate neuromuscular blockade (T2) than neostigmine 0.05 mg/kg (GRADE: moderate quality), and sugammadex 4 mg/kg is 45.78 minutes (~ 16.8 times) faster in reversing deep neuromuscular blockade (PTC 1 to 5) than neostigmine 0.07 mg/kg (GRADE: low quality). With an NNTB of 8 to avoid an adverse event, sugammadex appears to have a better safety profile than neostigmine. Patients receiving sugammadex had 40% fewer adverse events compared with those given neostigmine. Specifically, risks of bradycardia (RR 0.16, NNTB 14; GRADE: moderate quality), PONV (RR 0.52, NNTB 16; GRADE: low quality), and overall signs of postoperative residual paralysis (RR 0.40, NNTB 13; GRADE: moderate quality) were reduced. Both sugammadex and neostigmine were associated with serious adverse events in less than 1% of patients, and data showed no differences in risk of serious adverse events between groups (RR 0.54; GRADE: low quality).

Read the full abstract...

Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, such as neostigmine, have traditionally been used for reversal of non-depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents. However, these drugs have significant limitations, such as indirect mechanisms of reversal, limited and unpredictable efficacy, and undesirable autonomic responses. Sugammadex is a selective relaxant-binding agent specifically developed for rapid reversal of non-depolarizing neuromuscular blockade induced by rocuronium. Its potential clinical benefits include fast and predictable reversal of any degree of block, increased patient safety, reduced incidence of residual block on recovery, and more efficient use of healthcare resources.


The main objective of this review was to compare the efficacy and safety of sugammadex versus neostigmine in reversing neuromuscular blockade caused by non-depolarizing neuromuscular agents in adults.

Search strategy: 

We searched the following databases on 2 May 2016: Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); MEDLINE (WebSPIRS Ovid SP), Embase (WebSPIRS Ovid SP), and the clinical trials registries,, and We re-ran the search on 10 May 2017.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) irrespective of publication status, date of publication, blinding status, outcomes published, or language. We included adults, classified as American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) I to IV, who received non-depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents for an elective in-patient or day-case surgical procedure. We included all trials comparing sugammadex versus neostigmine that reported recovery times or adverse events. We included any dose of sugammadex and neostigmine and any time point of study drug administration.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently screened titles and abstracts to identify trials for eligibility, examined articles for eligibility, abstracted data, assessed the articles, and excluded obviously irrelevant reports. We resolved disagreements by discussion between review authors and further disagreements through consultation with the last review author. We assessed risk of bias in 10 methodological domains using the Cochrane risk of bias tool and examined risk of random error through trial sequential analysis. We used the principles of the GRADE approach to prepare an overall assessment of the quality of evidence. For our primary outcomes (recovery times to train-of-four ratio (TOFR) > 0.9), we presented data as mean differences (MDs) with 95 % confidence intervals (CIs), and for our secondary outcomes (risk of adverse events and risk of serious adverse events), we calculated risk ratios (RRs) with CIs.

Main results: 

We included 41 studies (4206 participants) in this updated review, 38 of which were new studies. Twelve trials were eligible for meta-analysis of primary outcomes (n = 949), 28 trials were eligible for meta-analysis of secondary outcomes (n = 2298), and 10 trials (n = 1647) were ineligible for meta-analysis.

We compared sugammadex 2 mg/kg and neostigmine 0.05 mg/kg for reversal of rocuronium-induced moderate neuromuscular blockade (NMB). Sugammadex 2 mg/kg was 10.22 minutes (6.6 times) faster then neostigmine 0.05 mg/kg (1.96 vs 12.87 minutes) in reversing NMB from the second twitch (T2) to TOFR > 0.9 (MD 10.22 minutes, 95% CI 8.48 to 11.96; I2 = 84%; 10 studies, n = 835; GRADE: moderate quality).

We compared sugammadex 4 mg/kg and neostigmine 0.07 mg/kg for reversal of rocuronium-induced deep NMB. Sugammadex 4 mg/kg was 45.78 minutes (16.8 times) faster then neostigmine 0.07 mg/kg (2.9 vs 48.8 minutes) in reversing NMB from post-tetanic count (PTC) 1 to 5 to TOFR > 0.9 (MD 45.78 minutes, 95% CI 39.41 to 52.15; I2 = 0%; two studies, n = 114; GRADE: low quality).

For our secondary outcomes, we compared sugammadex, any dose, and neostigmine, any dose, looking at risk of adverse and serious adverse events. We found significantly fewer composite adverse events in the sugammadex group compared with the neostigmine group (RR 0.60, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.74; I2 = 40%; 28 studies, n = 2298; GRADE: moderate quality). Risk of adverse events was 28% in the neostigmine group and 16% in the sugammadex group, resulting in a number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome (NNTB) of 8. When looking at specific adverse events, we noted significantly less risk of bradycardia (RR 0.16, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.34; I2= 0%; 11 studies, n = 1218; NNTB 14; GRADE: moderate quality), postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) (RR 0.52, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.97; I2 = 0%; six studies, n = 389; NNTB 16; GRADE: low quality) and overall signs of postoperative residual paralysis (RR 0.40, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.57; I2 = 0%; 15 studies, n = 1474; NNTB 13; GRADE: moderate quality) in the sugammadex group when compared with the neostigmine group. Finally, we found no significant differences between sugammadex and neostigmine regarding risk of serious adverse events (RR 0.54, 95% CI 0.13 to 2.25; I2= 0%; 10 studies, n = 959; GRADE: low quality).

Application of trial sequential analysis (TSA) indicates superiority of sugammadex for outcomes such as recovery time from T2 to TOFR > 0.9, adverse events, and overall signs of postoperative residual paralysis.