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Acad Emerg Med. 1997 Sep;4(9):864-8.

Response to dopamine vs norepinephrine in tricyclic antidepressant-induced hypotension.

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Division of Emergency Medicine/Clinical Toxicology, UC Davis Medical Center, Sacramento, CA, USA.



To compare the efficacy of dopamine (DA) with that of norepinephrine (NE) in the treatment of refractory hypotension caused by tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).


A retrospective analysis was used to compare blood pressure responses in concurrent case series of patients treated with vasopressors for TCA-associated hypotension. The patients were adults (aged > or = 16 years) treated at 2 urban teaching hospitals from 1983 to 1994. All patients were diagnosed as having TCA ingestion (positive serum toxicologic assay), were hypotensive [systolic blood pressures (SBPs) < or = 90 mm Hg], and required vasopressor therapy. The patients were grouped by initial vasopressor treatment (i.e., NE vs DA).


There were 26 hypotensive adult patients who met study criteria. All 26 patients remained hypotensive after initial treatment of their TCA-associated hypotension with crystalloid infusion and alkalinization. The NE and DA groups were similar in age, sex, and proportion of patients with single and co-drug ingestion. The NE group, however, had a significantly lower average SBP at study entry (56 vs 74 mm Hg, p = 0.04). Nine of 15 (60%) patients responded to DA (5-10 micrograms/kg/min) and 11/11 (100%) patients responded to NE (5-53 micrograms/min). The difference in response rates was statistically significant (p = 0.02). Six patients in whom DA (max rate 10-50 micrograms/min/kg) failed to raise the SBP subsequently responded to NE (max rate 5-74 micrograms/ min) when this drug was later used. One patient receiving NE (12 micrograms/min) developed ventricular ectopy, successfully treated with lidocaine. There were no ischemic complications from either NE or DA. Patients who failed DA therapy tended to be older (39 vs 30 years, p = 0.08), to be more hypotensive at study entry (64 vs 81 mm Hg, p = 0.008), and to remain hypotensive even at higher doses of DA (24 vs 7 micrograms/min/kg, p = 0.002).


While this was not a prospective randomized study, NE appears advantageous over DA as the first-line vasopressor agent for those patients who require vasopressor support in the setting of TCA-induced hypotension that is refractory to IV fluid and serum alkalinization.

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