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Editor: Abdolreza Saadabadi Updated: 2/29/2024 1:42:07 AM


Flumazenil is a benzodiazepine antagonist.[1][2] 

FDA-Approved Indications

  • Treatment of benzodiazepine overdose

            -Adult, Category B, Class IIa  

            -Pediatric, Category C, Class IIb 

  • Reversal of postoperative sedation from benzodiazepine anesthetics

            -Adult, Category B, Class IIa

            -Pediatric, Category B, Class IIa

  • Flumazenil is indicated for a complete or partial reversal of the sedative effects of benzodiazepines in conscious sedation and general anesthesia in the adult and pediatric populations. In addition, flumazenil speeds the recovery from sedation following minor surgical procedures and shortens the post-operation monitoring period for minor surgery, resulting in earlier patient discharge.
  • Flumazenil is also indicated for managing and treating benzodiazepine overdose in adults. It is useful in reversing coma due to benzodiazepine overdose. Flumazenil is more effective in reversing sedation or coma in benzodiazepine intoxication than in patients with multiple drug overdoses.
  • According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force's guidelines for moderate procedural sedation and analgesia, flumazenil is useful for the reversal of benzodiazepine-induced sedation and respiratory depression.[3] The combination of remimazolam and flumazenil accelerates recovery from general anesthesia and reduces the risk of respiratory depression compared to propofol.[4][5]

Off-Label Uses

  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • Baclofen reversal
  • Idiopathic recurring stupor
  • Cannabis toxicity
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Benzodiazepines detoxification
  • As the FDA has not approved flumazenil, the advantages and disadvantages of using this drug in non-FDA-approved conditions are based on the patient's condition and the clinician's judgment.[6][7][8][9][10][11]

Mechanism of Action

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Mechanism of Action

Flumazenil is a benzodiazepine antagonist. It competitively inhibits the activity of benzodiazepine and non-benzodiazepine substances that interact with benzodiazepine receptors site on the GABA/benzodiazepine receptor complex. It can also reverse the binding of benzodiazepines to benzodiazepine receptors.[12] Intravenous (IV) flumazenil antagonizes sedative effects, impairment of recall, and psychomotor impairment produced by benzodiazepines.[13]


Absorption: After parenteral administration, the onset of action is approximately 1 to 2 minutes; 80% of response occurs within the initial 3 minutes. The peak effect is observed 6 to 10 minutes after administration. The duration of flumazenil ranges from 19 to 50 minutes, depending on the dose and plasma concentrations of benzodiazepines.

Distribution: Flumazenil demonstrates extensive distribution in the extracellular space. The initial apparent volume of distribution is 0.5 L/kg, and steady-state plasma concentration is 0.9 to 1.1 L/kg. Plasma protein binding is approximately 50%. Albumin contributes to two-thirds of plasma protein binding.

Metabolism: Flumazenil undergoes near-complete metabolism, with minor fractions (<1%) excreted unchanged in urine. Key urine metabolites include the de-ethylated free acid and its glucuronide conjugate, without evident pharmacological activity based on preclinical studies. While several radioactive metabolites are produced, only the unchanged drug can cross the blood-brain barrier.[14]

Elimination: Radiolabeled flumazenil elimination concludes within 72 hours, with 90% to 95% radioactivity excreted in urine and 5% to 10% in feces. Flumazenil clearance primarily relies on hepatic metabolism. In healthy volunteers' studies, total clearance ranges from 0.8 to 1.0 L/hr/kg. The elimination half-life is about 54 minutes, varying by 21% (41 to 79 minutes). Therefore, re-sedation may occur within 1 to 2 hours after administration, requiring additional doses.[15]


Available Dosage Forms and Strengths

Flumazenil is for IV infusion. The injectable solution contains a concentration of 0.1 mg/mL of flumazenil. The solution is stable for 24 hours if drawn into a syringe or mixed with D5W, LR, or NS. The administration is completed by freely running IV infusion into a large vein or a series of small injections.[16]

Adult Dosage

FDA Dosage for management of benzodiazepine overdose

  • The clinician should give the initial dosage of 0.2 mg IV for 30 seconds 
  • If the desired level of consciousness is not obtained after 30 seconds, the clinician can provide an additional dose of 0.3 mg IV over 30 seconds
  • Repeat doses of 0.5 mg IV over 30 seconds at 1-minute intervals to a maximum cumulative dose of 3 mg is possible.
  • Patients with partial response to 3 mg may require additional slow titration up to a total dosage of 5 mg. If no response occurs after administration of 5 mg, the primary cause of sedation is not benzodiazepine-related, and further treatment with flumazenil is ineffective.
  • In reoccurrence, sedations repeat doses may be given at 20-minute intervals, not to exceed 1 mg (0.5 mg/minute) per dose or 3 mg/hour.

FDA dosage for benzodiazepine reversal when used in conscious sedation or general anesthesia

  • The initial dosage of 0.2 mg IV over 15 seconds 
  • If the desired level of consciousness is not obtained after 45 seconds, 0.2 mg IV may be repeated at 1-minute intervals. A maximum of 4 additional doses may be given if required.
  • The maximum total cumulative dose of 1 mg
  • In the reoccurrence of sedation, repeat doses may be given at 20-minute intervals, not to exceed 0.2 mg/min per dose or 3 mg/hour total.

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases states that flumazenil only produces transient improvement in overt hepatic encephalopathy without long-term survival benefits.[17]

Specific Patient Populations

Hepatic impairment: Hepatic dosing is necessary for patients with hepatic insufficiency. The initial dose of flumazenil for benzodiazepine reversal remains the same, but subsequent doses should be decreased in dosage or frequency.[18]

Renal impairment: FDA-approved product labeling specifies that in cases of renal failure (creatinine clearance <10 mL/min) and during hemodialysis, the pharmacokinetics of flumazenil remain unaffected.

Pregnancy considerations: A study investigated cases of poisoning in pregnant individuals using data from the Toxicology Investigators Consortium Registry's 37 sites from January 2010 to December 2012. The results revealed that flumazenil ranked as the third most frequently administered antidote. In benzodiazepine toxicity during pregnancy, where supportive measures generally prove effective, a case report underscored flumazenil's potential to reverse fetal cardiac rhythm abnormalities induced by maternal diazepam overdose.[19]

Breastfeeding considerations: Exercise caution when considering flumazenil administration to breastfeeding women, as its presence in human milk is not established. Information on using flumazenil during breastfeeding is limited. If the mother requires flumazenil, breastfeeding can be continued. Given the drug's half-life of 54 minutes, abstaining from breastfeeding for 4 to 5 hours after administration can help minimize infant exposure.[20]

Pediatric patients: FDA indicates use for benzodiazepine reversal in conscious sedation or general anesthesia.

  • The initial dose of 0.01 mg/kg administered over 15 seconds (up to a maximum dosage of 0.2 mg)
  • If the desired level of consciousness is not obtained after 45 seconds, repeat 0.01 mg/kg (up to 0.2 mg) at 1-minute intervals as needed, up to 4 additional doses.
  • The maximum total cumulative dose of 1 or 0.05 mg/kg, whichever is lower
  • The mean total dose of 0.65 mg was administered during the clinical trial (range: 0.08 to 1 mg)

Older patients: Studies involving subjects aged over 65, including one study with participants over 80 years, indicate that while benzodiazepine doses for inducing sedation should be lowered, the standard dosage of flumazenil is effective for reversal in older adults.

Adverse Effects

Serious Adverse Events

  • Sedation
  • Neurologic effects
  • Seizure
  • Arrhythmias[21]

Common Adverse Events


  • Bradycardia
  • Tachycardia
  • Hypertension
  • Chest pain


  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Impaired cognition
  • Opisthotonus
  • Shivering
  • Somnolence


  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


  • Injection site reaction


  • Defects of the visual field and diplopia
  • Blurred vision


  • Transient hearing impairment


  • Diaphoresis
  • Injection site pain


  • Anxiety
  • Psychotic disorder
  • Agitation
  • Panic attack[22]

Drug-Drug Interactions

Tricyclic antidepressants: Exercise caution with flumazenil in mixed drug overdosage, especially involving tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline, nortriptyline, clomipramine, and imipramine—seizure risk increases. In severe cyclic antidepressant toxicity marked by dysrhythmia, anticholinergic signs, and cardiovascular collapse, avoid flumazenil. Provide supportive care until antidepressant toxicity symptoms subside.[23]

Vecuronium: Vials of flumazenil and vecuronium can resemble each other after the differently colored caps are removed. Both vials may be stored in procedural areas, increasing the risk of a mix-up.[24]



  • Hypersensitivity to flumazenil or benzodiazepines
  • Benzodiazepine administration for life-threatening diseases such as control of intracranial pressure or status epilepticus
  • Signs of tricyclic antidepressant overdose[25]

Warning and Precautions

  • Flumazenil provokes panic attacks in patients with a history of panic disorder.
  • Convulsions may occur in patients with a chronic dependency on benzodiazepines.
  • Flumazenil may precipitate convulsions or altered cerebral blood flow in patients with a head injury.
  • Increased risk of seizures exists in epileptic patients on benzodiazepine treatment for a prolonged period.
  • Caution is advised in patients with drug dependency or alcoholism due to increased frequency of benzodiazepine tolerance and dependence.
  • Do not use as primary treatment in patients with severe lung disease with respiratory depression secondary to benzodiazepines.
  • Signs of tricyclic antidepressant overdose or mixed overdoses should not be treated with flumazenil.
  • According to American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines for cardiac arrest, flumazenil reverses the respiratory depression induced by benzodiazepine poisoning; however, its utilization is constrained by significant risks and contraindications.[25][26][27][28][27][26][29]

US Box Warning

  • Seizures: Benzodiazepine reversal has correlations with seizures. Seizures may happen more frequently in patients on benzodiazepines for long-term sedation or in patients showing signs of severe tricyclic antidepressant overdose. The required dosage of flumazenil should be measured and prepared by the clinicians to manage seizures. Flumazenil use requires caution in patients relying on a benzodiazepine for seizure control.[30]


Patients should have monitoring for respiratory depression, benzodiazepine withdrawal, and other residual effects of benzodiazepines for at least 2 hours.[31] Seizures may occur secondary to flumazenil administration. Seizures induced by flumazenil may require larger doses of benzodiazepine.[27] Monitor the patient for the possible return of sedation, mostly in those who are tolerant of benzodiazepines or in the case of long-acting benzodiazepine overdose. Re-sedation may be treated in adults by administering flumazenil again until the therapeutic effect is achieved.[32]


Flumazenil has some associations with the precipitation of seizures in patients with benzodiazepine dependency with a history of seizures. However, flumazenil overdose is extremely rare.

Clinical Features

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Hyperesthesia
  • Seizures


  • No precise antidote for flumazenil toxicity is available.
  • In mild to severe toxicity, symptomatic and supportive treatment should be a consideration.
  • An overdose of flumazenil in a patient who is not a chronic benzodiazepine user would not be expected. Chronic benzodiazepine users experience withdrawal with abrupt discontinuation of the drug.[33][34]

Consult Criteria

  • Contact a medical toxicologist or local poison center for any patient with suspected severe adverse effects after receiving flumazenil, such as seizures, dysrhythmias, and hypotension.
  • Seizures after flumazenil administration are significantly associated with exposure to a pro-convulsant drug.[35]

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Today, with the epidemic of drug overdoses, nurses, pharmacists, and clinicians need to feel comfortable using flumazenil. This competitive antagonist of benzodiazepines can rapidly reverse benzodiazepine overdose. Despite the initial hype about the drug, many experts believe its risks may outweigh its benefits. The problem with flumazenil is that its effects are not consistent or predictable. The drug may precipitate seizures and withdrawal in patients using benzodiazepines for a medical disorder. Additionally, all clinicians should be aware that this drug should not be used in patients with a history of seizures, head injury, or those who have ingested a tricyclic antidepressant. The ideal circumstance for flumazenil is when a naive benzodiazepine individual has overdosed. The nurse and the pharmacist should educate the patient on the use of benzodiazepines and their potential to cause addiction and physical dependence.[36][37]

In general, patients who overdose on benzodiazepines alone rarely have significant mortality. The problem arises when the individual has co-ingested alcohol or other illicit drugs. In most isolated cases of benzodiazepine overdose, supportive management may prove useful. A few patients may develop rhabdomyolysis and aspiration pneumonia. Overall, the use of flumazenil to manage benzodiazepine overdose is diminishing as the drug may cause more harm than good.[1][38]

Normally, flumazenil overdose is handled by emergency department clinicians. Hospital pharmacists should ensure proper dosing of flumazenil. Critical care consultation is required in severe poisoning with respiratory depression. In addition, medical toxicologist consultation is often required for multiple-drug ingestions. As depicted above, clinicians (MDs, DOs, NPs, and PAs) should collaborate to improve patient outcomes. An interprofessional team approach would help achieve maximum efficacy and minimize potential risks associated with flumazenil therapy.



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