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Crit Care Med. 1996 Aug;24(8):1302-10.

N-acetyl-L-cysteine depresses cardiac performance in patients with septic shock.

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Intensive Care Unit, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woodville, Australia.



To investigate the effects of adjunctive therapy with parenteral N-acetyl-L-cysteine in patients with newly diagnosed septic shock.


Prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.


Multidisciplinary intensive care unit at a university teaching hospital.


Twenty patients (N-acetyl-L-cysteine group [n = 10], placebo group [n = 10]), 15 male and five female, of mean age 64 +/- 15 (SD) yrs and Acute Physiology and Chronic health Evaluation (APACHE) II score 33 +/- 6, with septic shock within 24 hrs of diagnosis.


After a 2-hr stabilization period (time-zero minus 2 hrs to time-zero), patients received either N-acetyl-L-cysteine in 5% dextrose (150 mg/kg in 100 mL over 15 mins, followed by 50 mg/kg in 250 mL over 4 hrs, and then 100 mg/kg/24 hrs in 500 mL for 44 hrs; N-acetyl-L-cysteine group) or the equivalent volume of 5% dextrose (placebo group).


Hemodynamic and oxygen transport indices were measured at time-zero minus 2 hrs and time-zero, and at multiple time points thereafter until completion of the trial infusion (time-zero plus 48 hrs). A daily Organ Failure Score was recorded for 14 days. Treatment group demographics and hemodynamic variables did not differ significantly between the two groups at time-zero. Mean (SD), pooled mean arterial pressure (MAP), and cardiac index were 75 +/- 15 mm Hg and 3.9 +/- 1.2 L/min/m2, respectively. Over the next 48 hrs, in the N-acetyl-L-cysteine group, there was a progressive decrease, relative to both time-zero and the placebo group, in MAP, cardiac index, and left ventricular stroke work index (p < .01, repeated-measures analysis of variance). Percentage reductions in these values relative to the placebo group at 48 hrs were 23%, 18%, and 43%, respectively Oxygen transport indices, arterial blood gas analyses, Pao2/Fio2 ratio, and shunt did not differ over time between the groups. There was no difference in either daily Organ Failure Score over time (p > .01, repeated-measures analysis of variance) or hospital mortality rate (90% N-acetyl-L-cysteine group, 50% placebo group) (p > .1, logistic regression) between the two groups.


Adjunctive therapy with N-acetyl-L-cysteine in newly diagnosed septic shock was associated with a depression in cardiovascular performance, as indicated by progressive reductions in cardiac index, left ventricular stroke work index, and MAP.

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