Bench-to-bedside review: Vasopressin in the management of septic shock

Crit Care. 2011 Aug 11;15(4):226. doi: 10.1186/cc8224.


This review of vasopressin in septic shock differs from previous reviews by providing more information on the physiology and pathophysiology of vasopressin and vasopressin receptors, particularly because of recent interest in more specific AVPR1a agonists and new information from the Vasopressin and Septic Shock Trial (VASST), a randomized trial of vasopressin versus norepinephrine in septic shock. Relevant literature regarding vasopressin and other AVPR1a agonists was reviewed and synthesized. Vasopressin, a key stress hormone in response to hypotension, stimulates a family of receptors: AVPR1a, AVPR1b, AVPR2, oxytocin receptors and purinergic receptors. Rationales for use of vasopressin in septic shock are as follows: first, a deficiency of vasopressin in septic shock; second, low-dose vasopressin infusion improves blood pressure, decreases requirements for norepinephrine and improves renal function; and third, a recent randomized, controlled, concealed trial of vasopressin versus norepinephrine (VASST) suggests low-dose vasopressin may decrease mortality of less severe septic shock. Previous clinical studies of vasopressin in septic shock were small or not controlled. There was no difference in 28-day mortality between vasopressin-treated versus norepinephrine-treated patients (35% versus 39%, respectively) in VASST. There was potential benefit in the prospectively defined stratum of patients with less severe septic shock (5 to 14 μg/minute norepinephrine at randomization): vasopressin may have lowered mortality compared with norepinephrine (26% versus 36%, respectively, P = 0.04 within stratum). The result was robust: vasopressin also decreased mortality (compared with norepinephrine) if less severe septic shock was defined by the lowest quartile of arterial lactate or by use of one (versus more than one) vasopressor at baseline. Other investigators found greater hemodynamic effects of higher dose of vasopressin (0.06 units/minute) but also unique adverse effects (elevated liver enzymes and serum bilirubin). Use of higher dose vasopressin requires further evaluation of efficacy and safety. There are very few studies of interactions of therapies in critical care--or septic shock--and effects on mortality. Therefore, the interaction of vasopressin infusion, corticosteroid treatment and mortality of septic shock was evaluated in VASST. Low-dose vasopressin infusion plus corticosteroids significantly decreased 28-day mortality compared with corticosteroids plus norepinephrine (44% versus 35%, respectively, P = 0.03; P = 0.008 interaction statistic). Prospective randomized controlled trials would be necessary to confirm this interesting interaction. In conclusion, low-dose vasopressin may be effective in patients who have less severe septic shock already receiving norepinephrine (such as patients with modest norepinephrine infusion (5 to 15 μg/minute) or low serum lactate levels). The interaction of vasopressin infusion and corticosteroid treatment in septic shock requires further study.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hemostatics / administration & dosage
  • Hemostatics / metabolism
  • Hemostatics / pharmacology*
  • Hemostatics / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Shock, Septic / drug therapy*
  • Vasopressins / administration & dosage
  • Vasopressins / metabolism
  • Vasopressins / pharmacology*
  • Vasopressins / therapeutic use


  • Hemostatics
  • Vasopressins

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN94845869