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Circulation. 1997 Mar 4;95(5):1122-5.

Vasopressin deficiency contributes to the vasodilation of septic shock.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Columbia University, College of Physicians & Surgeons, New York, NY 10032, USA.



The hypotension of septic shock is due to systemic vasodilation. On the basis of a clinical observation, we investigated the possibility that a deficiency in vasopressin contributes to the vasodilation of septic shock.


In 19 patients with vasodilatory septic shock (systolic arterial pressure [SAP] of 92 +/- 2 mm Hg [mean +/- SE], cardiac output [CO] of 6.8 +/- 0.7 L/min) who were receiving catecholamines, plasma vasopressin averaged 3.1 +/- 1.0 pg/mL. In 12 patients with cardiogenic shock (SAP, 99 +/- 7 mm Hg; CO, 3.5 +/- 0.9 L/min) who were also receiving catecholamines, it averaged 22.7 +/- 2.2 pg/mL (P < .001). A constant infusion of exogenous vasopressin to 2 patients with septic shock resulted in the expected plasma concentration, indicating that catabolism of vasopressin is not increased in this condition. Although vasopressin is a weak pressor in normal subjects, its administration at 0.04 U/min to 10 patients with septic shock who were receiving catecholamines increased arterial pressure (systolic/diastolic) from 92/52 to 146/66 mm Hg (P < .001/P < .05) due to peripheral vasoconstriction (systemic vascular resistance increased from 644 to 1187 dyne.s/cm5; P < .001). Furthermore, in 6 patients with septic shock who were receiving vasopressin as the sole pressor, vasopressin withdrawal resulted in hypotension (SAP, 83 +/- 3 mm Hg), and vasopressin administration at 0.01 U/min, which resulted in a plasma concentration (approximately 30 pg/mL) expected for the level of hypotension, increased SAP from 83 to 115 mm Hg (P < .01).


Vasopressin plasma levels are inappropriately low in vasodilatory shock, most likely because of impaired baroreflex-mediated secretion. The deficiency in vasopressin contributes to the hypotension of vasodilatory septic shock.

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