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Can J Anaesth. 2001 May;48(5):502-9.

Multiple organ dysfunction syndrome: a narrative review.

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Department of Anesthesia, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.



To review multiple organ dysfunction syndrome with respect to: 1) clinical measurement systems; 2) molecular mechanisms; and 3) therapeutic directions based upon molecular mechanisms.


The Medline, Cochrane, and Best Evidence databases (1996 to 2000), conference proceedings, bibliographies of review articles were searched for relevant articles. Key index words were multiple organ failure, multiple system organ dysfunction, sepsis, septic shock, shock, systemic inflammatory response syndrome. Outcomes prospectively defined were death and physiological reversal of end organ failure.


Multiple organ dysfunction/failure (MODS) is the most common cause for death in intensive care units. The recognition of this syndrome in the last 30 yr may be due to advances in early resuscitation unmasking these delayed sequelae in those that would have died previously. Multiple organ dysfunction occurs after shock of varied etiologies and may be the result of unbridled systemic inflammation. As yet, therapy directed to prevent or improve MODS has not dramatically altered outcomes.


Multiple organ dysfunction may serve as useful measure of disease severity for risk adjustment and outcome marker for quality of care and therapy provided. Anesthesiologists treating shock patients will note the subsequent development of MODS in the critical care unit and may be required to provide anesthetic support to these patients.

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