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Haloperidol Use in the Emergency Department for Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Nausea, Vomiting, and Abdominal Pain

Shahsavari, Dariush MD1; Reznick-Lipina, Kaitlin RN2; Malik, Zubair MD1; Weiner, Mark MD3; Jehangir, Asad MD4; Repanshek, Zachary D. MD5; Parkman, Henry P. MD1

Author Information
Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology: June 2021 - Volume 12 - Issue 6 - p e00362
doi: 10.14309/ctg.0000000000000362
  • Open



Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms contribute substantially to health care use including emergency department (ED) visits and hospitalization in the United States (1). Abdominal pain is the symptom most responsible for ED visits, followed by nausea/vomiting. The utilization of ED services has dramatically increased over the past 2 decades (2). In the ED, various therapies have been used to treat nausea and vomiting especially from gastroparesis, including metoclopramide, ondansetron, lorazepam, and, most recently, haloperidol (HL).

HL, a butyrophenone, is a potent dopamine antagonist. It is a first-generation antipsychotic which is used in schizophrenia and related disorders (3). HL also acts on the gastric and cerebral chemoreceptor trigger zones reducing nausea and vomiting (4). It also has shown analgesic effects, the mechanism of which is not fully understood, although some literature report N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor modulation (5–7). HL has also been demonstrated to be efficacious in cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) and cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) (8,9). HL has successfully been used in the past as an antiemetic in general surgery and oncology (10–12) and more recently in EDs for diabetic gastroparesis (13). The Haloperidol Undermining Gastroparesis Symptoms trial demonstrated that HL in the ED can result in a reduction in morphine analgesia administered and a reduction in hospital admissions for patients presenting with an acute exacerbation of gastroparesis (14). This was further examined in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial demonstrating a significant mean reduction in pain and nausea for gastroparesis patients receiving HL in the ED (15). Of note, these studies have been conducted in patient populations with specific conditions (e.g., cancer, gastroparesis, and cyclic vomiting).

Patients with gastroparesis and other disorders with nausea and vomiting such as CVS often have symptoms over years and cared for by gastroenterologists and primary care physicians. However, for acute exacerbations, these patients often present to EDs for symptomatic control. Our overall aim was to examine the use of HL in patients who present to the ED with GI symptoms. The primary aim was to characterize the use of HL at our tertiary care center's ED and to examine the outcomes of patients who present with nausea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain from a variety of disorders including gastroparesis, CVS, and CHS who receive HL for treatment of their symptoms.


This was a retrospective review of patients' electronic medical records (EMRs) who presented to our ED at Temple University Hospital between August 2016 and March 2019 with GI symptoms (nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain) and received HL. International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision codes were used to identify these patients: R11 nausea and vomiting, R11.0 nausea, R11.10 unspecified vomiting, R11.1 vomiting, R11.11 vomiting without nausea, R11.14 bilious vomiting, R11.2 unspecified nausea with vomiting, R10.9 unspecified abdominal pain, R10.13 epigastric pain, R10.81 abdominal tenderness, R10.819 abdominal tenderness with unspecified site, K31.84 gastroparesis, G43.A0 cyclical vomiting, G43.A1 intractable cyclical vomiting, and K30 functional dyspepsia.

Patients younger than 18 years and patients who left the ED before being seen by medical staff were excluded from this study. Electronic records including physician notes were examined to confirm coding was appropriate with the actual presenting symptoms and that HL was administered during their ED stay.

Recurrent presentations by the same patients were considered a separate encounter and were included when they were within the period mentioned above. A second data set was used for demographic information which only included unique patients to avoid duplication.

Demographic information such as age, sex, body mass index (BMI), ethnic/racial group, and presence of diabetes, as well as other information such as electrocardiogram, medication doses, chronic opioid (either prescription medications or illicit opioids), or marijuana use, was obtained from our EMR. In addition, Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database was checked to capture all patients on chronic opioids.

The Spearman rho test was used to show correlation between continuous variables. Binary multiple logistic regression methods were used to make predictive models for admission to hospital, return to the ED within 30 days; outpatient follow-up as dependent variables (outcomes); age, sex, race, BMI, diabetes, underlying GI disorders, psychiatric disorders, and presenting symptoms; and other medications given in the ED as independent covariates (predictors).

During the same period, 753 patients were identified who presented to our ED with similar GI symptoms and did not receive HL. Of these patients, 280 patients with 410 ED encounters were randomly selected using SPSS (IBM, Armonk, NY) software randomizer as a control group for further multivariable logistic regression models. SPSS software version 23 was used for all analyses.


From August 2016 to March 2019, there were 456,000 visits to the Temple University Hospital ED. There were 281 unique patients (410 total ED visits) with GI symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain and received HL for their symptoms. Demographic features are shown in Table 1. Approximately 65.8% of patients were women. The mean age was 37.3 ± 13.1 years (range 18–87 years), and average BMI was 27.1 ± 6.7. African Americans were the most common patients (52.3%), followed by Latinos (19.9%) and whites (16.8%). Approximately 32.4% had diabetes (24.6% insulin-dependent and 7.5% non–insulin-dependent), 68.3% used marijuana, and 26.6% were on chronic opioids.

Table 1. - Demographics of patients presenting with GI symptoms who received HL
N Percentages
Total number of ED visits 410
Total number of patients 281
 Female 185 65.84
 Male 96 34.16
 African American 147 52.31
 Latino 56 19.93
 White 47 16.73
 Other 31 11.03
 Nondiabetic 190 67.62
  Insulin-dependent diabetes 69 24.56
  Non–insulin-dependent diabetes 21 7.47
  Total 90 32.38
Mean age ± SD 37.27 ± 13.09
Mean BMI ± SD 27.07 ± 6.68
Top ICD-10 diagnosis codes
 1: Nausea with vomiting, unspecified (R11.2) 125 31.46
 2: Gastroparesis (K31.84) 70 17.07
 3: Cyclical vomiting (G43.A0) 38 9.76
 4: Vomiting, unspecified (R11.10) 32 7.80
 5: Cyclical vomiting, intractable (G43.A1) 21 5.12
Cannabinoid 280 68.29
Chronic opioids 109 26.59
Underlying GI disorder
 Gastroparesis 163 39.76
 CHS 116 28.29
 CVS 43 10.49
 PUD 24 5.85
 Chronic abdominal pain 15 3.66
 GERD 7 1.71
Psychiatric disorders
 Anxiety 52 18.51
 Depression 68 24.20
 Bipolar disorder 16 5.69
 Schizophrenia 6 2.14
Presenting symptom
 Nausea 403 98.29
 Vomiting 403 98.29
 Abdominal pain 341 83.17
Mean timing of HL (number of times given) ± SD 1.11 ± 0.33
Median dose of HL (mg) ± IQR 2.5 ± 3.0
Received 2nd doses 42 10.24
Received 3rd doses 2 0.49
HL was the first medication given 143 34.88
HL was the only medication given 52 12.68
 IV 347 84.63
 IM 100 24.39
 PO 5 1.22
EKGs performed before HL 151 36.83
EKGs performed after HL 105 25.61
Mean QTc (mm) ± SD before HL was given 450.43 ± 38.26
Mean QTc (mm) ± SD after HL was given 458.87 ± 34.28
Other medications given during the ED visit
 None 52 12.68
 Opioids 142 34.63
 Antiemetic medications 287 70.00
 Benzodiazepines 53 12.93
 H1-blockers, H2-blockers, and PPIs 168 40.98
ED total LOS (hr) ± SD 7.53 ± 3.91
ED LOS before HL (hr) ± SD 3.16 ± 2.09
ED LOS after HL (hr) ± SD 4.39 ± 3.41
Side effects associated with HL
 None 392 95.61
 Sedation 15 3.66
 Dystonia 2 0.49
 Akathisia 0 0.00
 Cardiac arrhythmia 0 0.00
 Home 232 56.59
 Hospital admission 177 43.17
 Transfer 0 0.00
Reason for admission to hospital
 Nausea 144 81.36
 Vomiting 147 83.06
 Abdominal pain 118 66.70
 Other 52 29.38
Length of hospital stay (d) ± SD 3.49 ± 4.02
Return to the ED within 30 d of discharge 136 33.17
Mean days of return to the ED ± SD 11.48 ± 8.97
Was there any outpatient follow-up? 79 19.27
BMI, body mass index; CHS, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome; CVS, cyclic vomiting syndrome; ED, emergency department; EKG, electrocardiogram; GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease; GI, gastrointestinal; H1 and H2, histamine 1 and 2 receptors; HL, haloperidol; ICD-10, International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision; IM, intramuscularly; IQR, interquartile range; IV, intravenous; LOS, length of stay; PO, oral; PPIs, proton pump inhibitors; PUD, peptic ulcer disease; QTc, corrected QT interval.

Of these 281 patients, 39.8% had diagnosis of gastroparesis, 28.3% had CHS, 10.5% had CVS, 5.8% had peptic ulcer disease, 3.7% had chronic abdominal pain, and 1.7% had gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Anxiety was present in 18.5%, depression in 24.2%, bipolar in 5.7%, and schizophrenia in 2.1%.

Most common symptoms were nausea and/or vomiting (98.3%), and 83.2% of patients had abdominal pain. Most common International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision diagnostic codes were nausea with vomiting (31.5%), gastroparesis (17.1%), cyclic vomiting (9.8%), unspecified vomiting (7.8%), and intractable cyclic vomiting (5.1%) (Table 2).

Table 2. - Correlation of demographic and other factors with outcomes
ED LOS Hospital LOS How many days later did the patients return?
r P r P r P
Age +0.13 0.007 +0.08 0.277 +0.17 0.041
BMI −0.02 0.672 +0.05 0.560 −0.04 0.639
Frequency of HL doses given +0.13 0.012 −0.03 0.666 +0.07 0.412
HL dose −0.01 0.832 −0.03 0.738 +0.10 0.231
ED LOS +0.01 0.892 +0.23 0.007
The bivariate Spearman rho test was used for correlation between continuous variables. P is considered statistically significant at <0.05 (bolded).
BMI, body mass index; ED, emergency department; HL, haloperidol; LOS, length of stay.

These patients on average received HL 1.11 ± 0.33 times (range 1–3 times) with median dose 2.5 ± 3.0 mg per dose (range 0.5–10 mg), mostly intravenously (84.6%), followed by 24.4% intramuscularly, and 1.2% (5 patients) who received oral doses (Table 1). Approximately 10.2% received a second dose of HL, and 0.5% of patients received a third dose of the medication during their ED visit. HL was the first medication given in 34.9% of encounters, and it was the only medication given during the ED visit in 12.7% (52 patients). In addition to HL, 69.9% of patients also received antiemetic medications including 5-HT3 receptor antagonists (e.g., ondansetron) and dopamine receptor antagonists (e.g., metoclopramide), 34.7% of patients received opioids, 12% received benzodiazepines, and 17.8% were given acid-suppressive medications such as H1-, H2-blockers, or proton pump inhibitors.

Side effects related to HL occurred in 4.1% cases. The most common side effect was sedation in 3.7% of patients, followed by dystonia in 0.5% (2 patients). In patients who had electrocardiogram performed before and after HL administration, there was a trend toward longer QT interval (corrected QT interval before: HL: 450.4 ± 38.3 milliseconds, corrected QT interval after HL: 458.9 ± 34.3 milliseconds; P = 0.054), but no incidents of Torsade de Pointes were reported. No cases of severe adverse reactions including anaphylaxis or death were reported.

Total ED length of stay (LOS) was 7.5 ± 3.9 hours (3.1 ± 2.1 hours before HL administration and 4.4 ± 3.4 hours after). The majority of patients (56.6%) were discharged home after HL treatment while 43.2% were admitted to the hospital mostly because of persistent nausea and vomiting (62.1%) and abdominal pain (28.8%). Of patients admitted, the hospital LOS was on average 3.5 ± 4 days. Of people who were discharged from the ED, 136 patients (33.2%) returned to the ED within 30 days on average after 11.5 ± 9 days. Only 79 patients (19.3%) had any outpatient follow-up in the next 90 days after discharge.

Older patients had longer ED LOS (r = +0.13, P ≤ 0.01) and returned to the ED within 30 days, presented later (r = +0.17, P = 0.041) (Table 2). More frequent doses of HL also showed slight correlation with ED LOS (r = +0.13, P < 0.05). Patients who stayed in the ED longer during their initial visit and then returned within 30 days tended to present later (r = +0.23, P < 0.01).

When adjusted for other variables including age, sex, race, BMI, diabetes, underlying GI disorders, psychiatric disorders, presenting symptoms, and other medications given in the ED, patients with diabetes, cannabinoid use, anxiety, and those who received antiemetics in addition to HL, and those who stayed in the ED longer were more likely to be admitted to the hospital (odds ratio [OR] = 4.56, OR = 2.31, OR = 2.56, OR = 2.11, OR = 1.34, respectively, all P < 0.05) (Table 3). Patients who received HL as the only medication during their ED visit as well as patients who mainly presented with abdominal pain were less likely to be admitted (OR = 0.25, OR = 0.47, respectively, all P < 0.05). Patients who also received benzodiazepines in addition to HL were more likely to return to the ED within 30 days (OR = 2.28, P = 0.01), and African American patients, patients who used cannabinoids, were less likely to have outpatient follow-up within 90 days (OR = 0.36, OR = 0.47, respectively, P < 0.05). Admission to hospital led to higher rate of outpatient follow-up in this group (OR = 4.49, P < 0.01). HL dose received in the ED did not predict admission to the hospital, return to the ED within 30 days, or follow-up rate.

Table 3. - Factors associated with outcomes in patients presenting with GI symptoms who receive HL
Admission to hospital Return to the ED within 30 d Outpatient follow-up
OR 95% CI P OR 95% CI P OR 95% CI P
Age 1.05 1.02–1.07 0.000 0.99 0.97–1.01 0.259 1.01 0.99–1.04 0.381
Sex (female) 1.00 0.55–1.81 0.998 0.67 0.41–1.1 0.117 1.72 0.87–3.4 0.119
BMI 1.01 0.97–1.05 0.565 1.01 0.97–1.04 0.799 1.01 0.97–1.05 0.740
Diabetes 4.56 2.06–10.1 0.000 1.50 0.77–2.93 0.237 0.91 0.4–2.06 0.822
Cannabinoid use 2.31 1.15–4.65 0.019 0.97 0.55–1.72 0.909 0.47 0.24–0.92 0.027
Chronic opioid use 0.59 0.29–1.17 0.129 0.81 0.46–1.43 0.459 1.27 0.62–2.59 0.510
 African American 0.45 0.16–1.26 0.127 1.52 0.63–3.69 0.355 0.36 0.14–0.97 0.043
 White 1.47 0.45–4.87 0.526 0.72 0.25–2.06 0.540 0.38 0.12–1.18 0.095
 Latino 0.63 0.2–1.98 0.426 1.11 0.42–2.91 0.831 0.69 0.24–2 0.497
Psychiatric disorders
 Anxiety 2.56 1.09–6.01 0.031 1.26 0.61–2.59 0.534 1.63 0.71–3.75 0.255
 Depression 0.87 0.43–1.77 0.695 1.20 0.65–2.2 0.561 1.15 0.55–2.4 0.705
 Bipolar 1.78 0.53–5.93 0.350 1.04 0.38–2.84 0.935 1.43 0.46–4.45 0.537
 Schizophrenia 4.02 0.83–19.52 0.085 1.94 0.51–7.37 0.332 0.45 0.08–2.5 0.364
Underlying GI disorders
 Gastroparesis 0.82 0.39–1.72 0.602 1.54 0.83–2.87 0.175 1.63 0.76–3.46 0.208
 GERD 1.60 0.27–9.59 0.609 0.88 0.15–5.22 0.884 0.90 0.11–7.59 0.926
 CVS 0.57 0.2–1.62 0.288 1.19 0.53–2.64 0.679 1.79 0.63–5.09 0.273
 CHS 1.20 0.58–2.5 0.619 0.95 0.51–1.76 0.872 0.41 0.16–1.06 0.066
Main presenting chief complaint
 Abdominal pain 0.47 0.22–0.99 0.046 1.53 0.8–2.92 0.202 2.49 1.07–5.8 0.035
 Nausea 0.08 0–3.5 0.189 1.94 0.2–18.9 0.569 2.32 0.2–26.48 0.499
 Vomiting 0.13 0.01–2.84 0.194 0.22 0.03–1.71 0.146 0.25 0.02–2.48 0.234
Medications received during the ED visit
 No other medications other than HL 0.25 0.07–0.89 0.033 1.17 0.44–3.13 0.751 1.05 0.31–3.58 0.936
 PPI, H1-, or H2-blockers 1.03 0.58–1.83 0.924 1.39 0.85–2.27 0.187 0.91 0.48–1.72 0.768
 Antiemetics 2.11 1.03–4.32 0.042 1.62 0.86–3.06 0.135 0.90 0.41–2.01 0.803
 Benzodiazepine 0.67 0.29–1.52 0.336 2.28 1.19–4.38 0.013 0.68 0.28–1.62 0.380
 Narcotics 1.25 0.69–2.25 0.463 1.19 0.72–1.97 0.487 0.52 0.27–1.02 0.057
 HL dose 1.05 0.88–1.25 0.593 1.07 0.93–1.24 0.331 0.95 0.79–1.14 0.577
Hospital parameters
 ED LOS 1.34 1.22–1.47 0.000 1.01 0.94–1.08 0.776 0.96 0.88–1.04 0.288
 Admission 1.12 0.64–1.96 0.692 4.49 2.16–9.34 0.000
 Outpatient follow-up 0.84 0.46–1.54 0.573
Multiple binary logistic regression models were used to predict OR for categorical outcomes. P is considered statistically significant at <0.05 (bold).
BMI, body mass index; CHS, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome; CI, confidence interval; CVS, cyclic vomiting syndrome; ED, emergency department; GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease; GI, gastrointestinal; H1 and H2, histamine 1 and 2 receptors; HL, haloperidol; LOS, length of stay; OR, odds ratio; PPI, proton pump inhibitor.

An additional analysis was performed comparing patients receiving HL for GI symptoms compared with a control group of patients who presented to the ED with GI symptoms but did not receive HL. This control group consisted of a total of 561 patients with 820 ED visits; average age 38.6 ± 14.2 years, 66.6% women, and BMI 27.9 ± 7.1. The same outcome variables (hospital admission, return to the ED within 30 days, and outpatient follow-up) were examined using multivariable regression models (Table 4). After adjusting for age, sex, BMI, opioid use, cannabinoid use, and comorbidities such as diabetes, gastroparesis, GERD, CVS, and CHS, patients who received HL as the only medication during their ED visit were less likely to be admitted to the hospital (OR = 0.25, P < 0.01). In the same model, DM, CHS, and gastroparesis were associated with higher hospital admission rate (OR = 2.13, OR = 1.72, OR = 2.75, respectively, all P < 0.05).

Table 4. - Outcomes of all patients (who did and did not receive HL) presenting with gastrointestinal symptoms to the ED
Admission to hospital Return to the ED within 30 d Outpatient follow-up
OR 95% CI P OR 95% CI P OR 95% CI P
Received only HL in the ED 0.25 0.14–0.470 0.000 0.88 0.58–1.36 0.566 0.64 0.37–1.13 0.119
Age 1.03 1.02–1.05 0.000 1.00 0.99–1.02 0.897 1.03 1.02–1.05 0.000
Sex (female) 0.96 0.67–1.38 0.807 0.77 0.56–1.070 0.121 1.67 1.1–2.55 0.017
Diabetes 2.13 1.38–3.3 0.001 1.54 1.01–2.340 0.046 1.09 0.68–1.76 0.732
BMI 0.99 0.97–1.02 0.581 1.00 0.99–1.03 0.781 1.02 1–1.05 0.204
Chronic opioid user 1.31 0.87–1.97 0.198 0.89 0.61–1.31 0.548 1.89 1.23–2.91 0.004
Cannabinoid user 1.65 1.110–2.47 0.013 1.29 0.910–1.83 0.154 0.73 0.48–1.12 0.145
Cyclic vomiting syndrome 1.41 0.71–2.85 0.332 1.28 0.71–2.33 0.422 1.15 0.500–2.630 0.747
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome 1.72 1.04–2.860 0.037 0.90 0.57–1.45 0.673 0.66 0.33–1.34 0.249
Gastroparesis 2.75 1.79–4.24 0.000 1.49 0.990–2.26 0.056 1.60 1–2.57 0.051
Gastroesophageal reflux disease 1.20 0.65–2.21 0.566 1.23 0.71–2.120 0.469 3.17 1.8–5.61 0.000
Multiple binary logistic regression models including all variables above were used to predict OR for categorical outcomes. P is considered statistically significant at <0.05 (bold).
BMI, body mass index; CI, confidence interval; ED, emergency department; HL, haloperidol; OR odds ratio.


This study characterized the use and clinical outcomes of treating patients with HL for GI symptoms in the ED. Patients received HL primarily for treatment of nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. HL was mostly administered intravenously, usually as a single dose. Side effects to treatment (sedation and dystonia) occurred in only 4.4% of patients, and no serious side effects were reported. The 2 patients who had dystonic reactions received intravenous diphenhydramine with improvement, and they were discharged home. Of patients receiving HL, the majority (57%) were successfully treated and were able to be discharged from the ED.

The use of medications (both HL and other medications) influenced the ED discharge rate, and they were associated to one another. Patients who received antiemetics in addition to HL were more likely to be admitted, those who received benzodiazepine in addition to HL returned to the ED more often, and patients who received opioids in addition to HL were less likely to pursue outpatient follow-up. Interestingly, patients who received HL as the only medication during their ED visit were less likely to be admitted to the hospital (OR = 0.25, P < 0.05), and this was furthermore demonstrated in multivariable models of both groups (patients who received HL and those who did not). This may represent patients with less severe symptoms at presentation and less likely chance of being admitted a priori.

There is a paucity of research data for HL use for GI symptoms. In a similar fashion to our study, the Haloperidol Undermining Gastroparesis Symptoms trial used an EMR to examine 52 patients who presented to the ED with diabetic gastroparesis-related symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain and demonstrated a significant reduction in dose of opioid use and hospital admissions (14). Roldan et al. (15) in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial randomized patients with gastroparesis in the ED to receiving HL or placebo and noted improvement in nausea and pain scores after 1 hour compared with the placebo group. Witsil and Mycyk (16) reported 4 cases of CVS patients who failed standard ED therapy improved significantly after receiving HL. As mentioned above, patients in our study who only received HL as the only medication in the ED were less likely to be admitted. Whether this is due to the efficacy of HL or patients receiving only HL had less severe symptoms, as repeat treatments were not needed, can be addressed in a prospective study of HL in the ED.

In this study, HL was primarily used in the ED for the GI symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain, often if patients had gastroparesis, CVS, use of cannabinoids, and/or opiates. HL was used off-label as the initial therapy for symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain in 35% of patients and was the only therapy used in 12.7% of patients. We do not know why HL was used first as there are a number of approved agents for the treatment of nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain that could have been tried first. Patients with particularly severe symptoms seemed to be more likely to be treated with HL.

Our study evaluating the use of HL in the ED has several design advantages. The study looked at a defined period, searching for anyone receiving HL. Our ED is a tertiary care center, seeing a variety of patients including a number of minority populations. Our study, however, did have several limitations. As a retrospective chart review-based study, we were mostly relying on the information available in the electronic medication records. We were not able to assess the severity of symptoms and how successfully their symptoms improved. We used successful discharge from the ED as a favorable outcome variable to treatment with HL. Although the EMR systems and several medical centers are integrated and available, some information such as outpatient follow-ups by physicians outside our network could be missing. This study examined patients presenting to a single tertiary care center ED in a busy urban area which may translate into sicker patients with more complex medical and social issues. Furthermore, as neither patients nor physicians were blinded to receiving HL and as there are no specific guidelines for ED physicians to use HL for GI symptoms, there is a potential for selection bias, that is physicians gave HL more frequently for cannabinoid or opiate users.

In conclusion, HL is being used in the ED to treat patients with GI symptoms, particularly nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain in patients with a variety of disorders including gastroparesis, CVS, CHS, and other disorders. Our study shows that HL has promising results for GI symptoms in the ED including reducing the admission rate to the hospital and was safe with low rates of adverse events. If larger prospective, placebo-controlled studies demonstrate the efficacy and safety of HL for GI symptoms, these results could potentially support using HL sooner and more broadly which may lead to fewer hospital admissions, shorter ED visits, and less frequent return to the ED. Future directions of study can also include the continued use of HL as an outpatient after ED discharge.


Guarantor of the article: Dariush Shahsavari, MD.

Specific author contributions: D.S.: study planning, data collection and analysis, literature review, and writing the manuscript. K.R-L.: data collection and literature review. Z.M., M.W., A.J., and Z.D.R.: study planning, writing and critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content. H.P.P.: study planning and supervision of the study, data analysis, literature review and writing, and critical revision of the manuscript.

Financial support: None to report.

Potential competing interests: None to report.

Study Highlights


  • ✓ Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are responsible for a significant number of visits to emergency departments (EDs).
  • ✓ Haloperidol (HL), a first-generation antipsychotic agent, has been successfully used for nausea and vomiting in surgical and cancer patients.
  • ✓ HL also has shown efficacy in cyclic vomiting syndrome, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, and gastroparesis.
  • ✓ In the absence of clear clinical guidelines, current trends of HL use and its usefulness for GI symptoms in the ED are poorly characterized.


  • ✓ Most patients improved and were discharged home after receiving HL.
  • ✓ Patients who received HL as the only medication during their visit were less likely to be admitted to the hospital.
  • ✓ Older age, diabetes, cannabinoid use, anxiety, having abdominal pain, receiving antiemetics, and spending more time in the ED was associated with higher hospital admission.
  • ✓ Cannabinoid users and African Americans were less likely to have outpatient follow-ups.


  • ✓ Haloperidol seems to be an effective and relatively safe treatment option for GI symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, and shows promising results in patients presenting to the emergency department including reduction in hospital admissions.


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