How Diprivan Is Used During Surgery

Diprivan, or propofol, is a short-acting sedative that is used primarily for the induction of general anesthesia and sedation in intensive care units. It is also used for minor outpatient procedures that require monitored anesthesia care to keep the patient calm, pain-free, and still.

Diprivan is a powerful medication, but it has a very short half-life, meaning the drug wears off very quickly. Many sedatives linger in the body for hours or days, making Diprivan the primary drug used for short periods of sedation.

Diprivan is packaged in a fat emulsion, giving it a thick, white, milk-like appearance.

Operating nurse soothing patient on table in operating room
Westend61 / Getty Images

How It's Given

Diprivan is given through an Intervenous (IV) injection. It may be given once, known as a bolus, to provide sedation that lasts 5 to 10 minutes, or it may be given as an IV drip for ongoing sedation as needed.


Diprivan is the drug of choice in many situations for sedation. The primary reason that Diprivan is used so extensively is the short period of time that it is effective. A single injection of Diprivan provides sedation for less than 10 minutes in most patients and takes effect very quickly. It can also be used for longer periods of sedation when needed.

Patients undergoing outpatient procedures, such as dental work or a colonoscopy, may be administered Diprovan to facilitate brief but deep sedation during the procedure. This allows the patient to sleep through the process and they do not feel any pain.

In the case of a major surgery, Diprivan is given to sedate the patient during intubation, or the insertion of the breathing tube prior to general anesthesia.

Diprivan is commonly used for the sickest patients in the ICU for weeks at a time during the healing process. It is given to calm patients who are agitated or anxious, or to help the patient tolerate being on a ventilator without resisting the breaths the ventilator delivers. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is being used to sedate patients with severe coronavirus who require mechanical ventilation.

It is also effective at lowering intracranial pressure, or pressure building in the brain, which is a side effect of a traumatic brain injury or bleeding in the brain. For patients with increasing intracranial pressure who require sedation, Diprivan is a natural choice as it can provide both the needed sedation and helps treat the increasing pressure.

Diprivan is very short acting and wears off in less than 10 minutes for most patients. This gives the medical staff greater control over the level of sedation and also allows for the patient’s neurological status to be assessed without waiting for an extended period of time for the drug to wear off.


As with any sedative medication, there are numerous precautions to take when it comes to Diprivan. Here are a few:

  • Diprivan should be used only in situations where close monitoring, including heart monitoring, is available.
  • Diprivan is not recommended for infants one month of age or less
  • Diprivan should not be given to children who may have a respiratory tract infection, epiglottitis (potentially life-threatening swelling of the epiglottis), or croup.
  • Diprivan should not be given to patients with a soy or egg allergy
  • Diprivan may increase the risk of seizures in epileptic patients
  • Diprivan should not be used during pregnancy
  • Diprivan can cause respiratory arrest, requiring that the patient be closely monitored or on a ventilator
  • Diprivan can lower blood pressure and heart rate and should be used with caution in patients with hypotension or bradycardia.
  • Diprivan should be used with caution in patients who have fat metabolizing disorders.
  • Patients should not drive a car after receiving Diprivan, the next day is considered safe.

A Word From Verywell

Diprivan is an IV medication that is commonly used for sedation during procedures and in the ICU when patients are on a ventilator. This medication is highly effective and has the added benefit of wearing off quickly when the infusion into the IV is stopped.

Despite the association with the death of singer Michael Jackson, this medication is very safe when used appropriately by trained healthcare staff. Appropriate use means that when this medication is used there will be continuous monitoring of vital signs and close observation by medical staff, which a standard level of care during procedures and during an ICU stay.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Diprivan (propofol) injectable emulsion, USP.

  2. Mayo Clinic. Propofol (intravenous route).

  3. Witenko CJ, Littlefield AJ, Abedian S, An A, Barie PS, Berger K. The safety of continuous infusion propofol in mechanically ventilated adults with coronavirus disease 2019Ann Pharmacother. 2022;56(1):5-15. doi:10.1177/10600280211017315

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.