The physiology of the reproductive system changes dramatically with the onset of major illness. The serum testosterone concentrations fall to pre-pubertal levels secondary to a decreased secretion of gonadotropins and a decreased Leydig cell response to luteinizing hormone. At the same time, the serum oestrogen concentration rises as the result of an increased rate of peripheral aromatization. The clinical consequences of these marked changes are not yet well understood. One line of evidence argues for the administration of anabolic steroids (derivatives of testosterone) to critically ill patients to improve their catabolic state. Another line of evidence in animal models suggests that testosterone may suppress the immune system and myocardial function in critical illness. No clinical trials of oestrogen administration to critically ill patients have been reported, although two animal studies suggest that oestrogen may have a positive effect on survival. This chapter reviews changes in the physiology of the reproductive system in major illness as well as current evidence regarding the clinical effects of androgens and oestrogens in critical illness and their potential therapeutic roles.
Copyright 2001 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.