ACUTE ENDOCRINE FAILURE AFTER BRAIN DEATH?


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Abstract

After brain death, 32 potential organ donors were studied to determine serum and plasma concentrations of hypothalamic-pituitary hormones, thyroid hormones, and cortisol over a period of up to 80 hr. Diagnosis of brain death was established either on the basis of clinical criteria (n=16) or by angiography (n=16). While 78% of the organ donors developed diabetes insipidus, none of the circulating hormones of the anterior pituitary gland showed a progressive decline in concentration according to their plasma half-lives. With the exception of arginine vasopressin (AVP), no hormone concentration was found to be subnormal due to the onset of brain death. The subnormal free triiodothyronine (FT3) values in 62% of cases (median FT3 of 2.2 pmol/L within the first 24 hr) and the cortisol concentration of 6.9 μg/dl correlate with the frequency of similar findings in patients with severe head injuries. While the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) concentrations of 10–53 pg/ml remained constant during the study period, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and human growth hormone (hGH) concentrations showed a 12− and 35-fold increase from baseline values after 30–40 hr. These results suggest that, despite the now generally accepted criteria of brain death, there is still some residual function, and thus also perfusion of the hypothalamic-pituitary neuroendocrine system. This residual function appears to be sufficient to maintain hormonal plasma levels at least in the low reference range in most donors. Hormonal depletion in organ donors subsequent to brain death, as suggested repeatedly in the literature, could not be confirmed. The analysis of serum or plasma concentration patterns of a number of hormonal parameters following brain death does not support the rationale for a routine replacement therapy of total triiodothyronine (TT3) or cortisol to maintain endocrine homeostasis prior to organ harvest. However, dexamethasone therapy may be followed by suppression of the adrenal cortex of the organ donor. In these cases, cortisol substitution may be indicated.

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