The 2020 ACLS Guidelines were published in October 2020 [1]. This first of 3 blog posts will focus on vasopressor and non-vasopressor medications during cardiac arrest. Part 2 will focus on specific arrhythmia management and Part 3 will focus on toxicologic interventions.


There were no major updates for vasopressors and non-vasopressors used during cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association (AHA) published Highlights of the 2020 Guidelines [PDF] as a clear and concise summary. Now that the AHA is releasing focused updates in the 5-year period between guidelines (like this one on lidocaine), fewer major changes likely will be needed when the full guidelines are published.




  • Recommended for patients in cardiac arrest (COR 1, LOE B-R)
  • Reasonable to administer 1 mg every 3-5 minute (COR 2a, LOE B-R)
  • Reasonable to administer as soon as feasible in non-shockable rhythm (COR 2a, LOE C-LD)
  • May be reasonable to administer after initial defibrillation attempts have failed in shockable rhythm (COR 2b, LOE C-LD)

Amiodarone or lidocaine

  • May be considered for VF/pVT unresponsive to defibrillation (COR 2b, LOE B-R)





  • Offers no advantage over epinephrine (COR 2b, LOE C-LD)


  • During CPR, are of uncertain benefit in OHCA (COR 2b, LOE C-LD)


  • Routine use NOT recommended (COR 3, LOE B-NR)

Sodium bicarbonate

  • Routine use NOT recommended (COR 3)


  • Routine use NOT recommended (LOE B-R)

Table: Vasopressors and non-vasopressors used during cardiac arrest (VF: ventricular fibrillation, pVT: pulseless ventricular tachycardia)



Panchal AR, Bartos JA, Cabañas JG, et al; Adult Basic and Advanced Life Support Writing Group. Part 3: Adult Basic and Advanced Life Support: 2020 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care. Circulation. 2020 Oct 20;142(16_suppl_2):S366-S468. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000916. Epub 2020 Oct 21. PMID: 33081529.

Bryan D. Hayes, PharmD, DABAT, FAACT, FASHP

Bryan D. Hayes, PharmD, DABAT, FAACT, FASHP

Leadership Team, ALiEM
Creator and Lead Editor, Capsules and EM Pharm Pearls Series
Attending Pharmacist, EM and Toxicology, MGH
Associate Professor of EM, Division of Medical Toxicology, Harvard Medical School
Bryan D. Hayes, PharmD, DABAT, FAACT, FASHP


EM Pharmacist & Toxicologist @MassGeneralEM | Asst Prof @HarvardMed/@EMRES_MGHBWH | @ALiEMteam leadership | Capsules creator, ALiEMU | President, ABAT | #FOAMed