Vasopressin in vasodilatory and septic shock

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Purpose of review

The aim of this article is to review mechanisms of action of vasopressin and clinical studies of vasopressin in septic shock.

Recent findings

Arginine vasopressin is an important stress hormone that has both vasoactive and antidiuretic properties. The vasoactive properties of vasopressin have been more applicable clinically because of the discovery by Landry and colleagues that there is a deficiency of vasopressin in septic shock and that infusion of relatively low doses of vasopressin improves responsiveness to infused catecholamines (such as norepinephrine). There are at least 16 clinical studies of infusion of vasopressin in patients who have septic shock. The majority of studies found that vasopressin infusion increased blood pressure and urine output, and decreased the dose requirement of norepinephrine. Several studies showed that vasopressin infusion increased urine output. Both vasopressin and norepinephrine have important adverse effects including decreased cardiac output, decreased heart rate, arrhythmias, myocardial ischemia, mesenteric ischemia, and digital ischemia.


It is still unclear whether there is net benefit from low dose vasopressin infusion in patients who have septic shock. There may be certain patients who benefit but there are few studies of a prolonged vasopressin infusion to determine which patients benefit.

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