Vasopressors and intestinal mucosal perfusion after cardiac surgery: Norepinephrine vs. phenylephrine

Andreas Nygren, Anders Thorén, Sven-Erik Ricksten
Critical Care Medicine 2006, 34 (3): 722-9

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the potential differential effects of norepinephrine, an alpha1-, beta1-, and beta2-receptor agonist, to the alpha1-agonist phenylephrine on jejunal mucosal perfusion, gastric-arterial PCO2 gradient, and the global splanchnic oxygen demand-supply relationship after cardiac surgery.

DESIGN: A randomized, prospective, interventional crossover study.

SETTING: A university cardiothoracic intensive care unit.

PATIENTS: Ten patients were studied during propofol sedation and mechanical ventilation after uncomplicated coronary artery bypass surgery.

INTERVENTIONS: Each patient received randomly and sequentially norepinephrine (0.052+/-0.009 microg/kg/min) and phenylephrine (0.50+/-0.22 microg/kg/min) to increase mean arterial blood pressure by 30%.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Data on jejunal mucosal perfusion, jejunal mucosal hematocrit, and red blood cell velocity (laser Doppler flowmetry) as well as gastric-arterial Pco2 gradient (tonometry) and splanchnic oxygen extraction were obtained before (control) and during a 30-min drug infusion period after the target mean arterial blood pressure was reached. The procedure was sequentially repeated for the second vasopressor. Both drugs induced a 40-46% increase in systemic vascular resistance with no change in cardiac index. Neither jejunal mucosal perfusion, jejunal mucosal hematocrit, red blood cell velocity, nor gastric-arterial Pco2 gradient was affected by any of the vasopressors. Splanchnic oxygen extraction increased from 38.2% to 43.1% (p<.001) with norepinephrine and from 39.3% to 47.5% (p<.001) with phenylephrine. This increase was significantly more pronounced with phenylephrine compared with norepinephrine (p<.05). Mixed venous-hepatic vein oxygen saturation gradient increased with both drugs (p<.01), and the increase was more pronounced with phenylephrine (p<.05). Splanchnic lactate extraction was not significantly affected by any of the vasopressors.

CONCLUSIONS: Phenylephrine induced a more pronounced global alpha1-mediated splanchnic vasoconstriction compared with norepinephrine. Neither of the vasoconstrictors impaired perfusion of the gastrointestinal mucosa in postcardiac surgery patients. The lack of norepinephrine-induced, alpha1-mediated impairment of gastrointestinal perfusion is not explained by a beta2-mediated counteractive vasodilation but instead by possible mucosal autoregulatory escape.

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