Effects of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and phenylephrine on microcirculatory blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract in sepsis

Vladimir Krejci, Luzius B Hiltebrand, Gisli H Sigurdsson
Critical Care Medicine 2006, 34 (5): 1456-63

OBJECTIVE: The use of vasopressors for treatment of hypotension in sepsis may have adverse effects on microcirculatory blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract. The aim of this study was to measure the effects of three vasopressors, commonly used in clinical practice, on microcirculatory blood flow in multiple abdominal organs in sepsis.

DESIGN: Random order, cross-over design.

SETTING: University laboratory.

SUBJECTS: Eight sedated and mechanically ventilated pigs.

INTERVENTIONS: Pigs were exposed to fecal peritonitis-induced septic shock. Mesenteric artery flow was measured using ultrasound transit time flowmetry. Microcirculatory flow was measured in gastric, jejunal, and colon mucosa; jejunal muscularis; and pancreas, liver, and kidney using multiple-channel laser Doppler flowmetry. Each animal received a continuous intravenous infusion of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and phenylephrine in a dose increasing mean arterial pressure by 20%. The animals were allowed to recover for 60 mins after each drug before the next was started.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: During infusion of epinephrine (0.8 +/- 0.2 mug/kg/hr), mean arterial pressure increased from 66 +/- 5 to 83 +/- 5 mm Hg and cardiac index increased by 43 +/- 9%. Norepinephrine (0.7 +/- 0.3 mug/kg/hr) increased mean arterial pressure from 70 +/- 4 to 87 +/- 5 mm Hg and cardiac index by 41 +/- 8%. Both agents caused a significant reduction in superior mesenteric artery flow (11 +/- 4%, p < .05, and 26 +/- 6%, p < .01, respectively) and in microcirculatory blood flow in the jejunal mucosa (21 +/- 5%, p < .01, and 23 +/- 3%, p < .01, respectively) and in the pancreas (16 +/- 3%, p < .05, and 8 +/- 3%, not significant, respectively). Infusion of phenylephrine (3.1 +/- 1.0 mug/kg/min) increased mean arterial pressure from 69 +/- 5 to 85 +/- 6 mm Hg but had no effects on systemic, regional, or microcirculatory flow except for a 30% increase in jejunal muscularis flow (p < .01).

CONCLUSIONS: Administration of the vasopressors phenylephrine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine failed to increase microcirculatory blood flow in most abdominal organs despite increased perfusion pressure and-in the case of epinephrine and norepinephrine-increased systemic blood flow. In fact, norepinephrine and epinephrine appeared to divert blood flow away from the mesenteric circulation and decrease microcirculatory blood flow in the jejunal mucosa and pancreas. Phenylephrine, on the other hand, appeared to increase blood pressure without affecting quantitative blood flow or distribution of blood flow.

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