Importance: β-Blocker therapy may control heart rate and attenuate the deleterious effects of β-adrenergic receptor stimulation in septic shock. However, β-Blockers are not traditionally used for this condition and may worsen cardiovascular decompensation related through negative inotropic and hypotensive effects.
Objective: To investigate the effect of the short-acting β-blocker esmolol in patients with severe septic shock.
Design, setting, and patients: Open-label, randomized phase 2 study, conducted in a university hospital intensive care unit (ICU) between November 2010 and July 2012, involving patients in septic shock with a heart rate of 95/min or higher requiring high-dose norepinephrine to maintain a mean arterial pressure of 65 mm Hg or higher.
Interventions: We randomly assigned 77 patients to receive a continuous infusion of esmolol titrated to maintain heart rate between 80/min and 94/min for their ICU stay and 77 patients to standard treatment.
Main outcomes and measures: Our primary outcome was a reduction in heart rate below the predefined threshold of 95/min and to maintain heart rate between 80/min and 94/min by esmolol treatment over a 96-hour period. Secondary outcomes included hemodynamic and organ function measures; norepinephrine dosages at 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours; and adverse events and mortality occurring within 28 days after randomization.
Results: Targeted heart rates were achieved in all patients in the esmolol group compared with those in the control group. The median AUC for heart rate during the first 96 hours was -28/min (IQR, -37 to -21) for the esmolol group vs -6/min (95% CI, -14 to 0) for the control group with a mean reduction of 18/min (P < .001). For stroke volume index, the median AUC for esmolol was 4 mL/m2 (IQR, -1 to 10) vs 1 mL/m2 for the control group (IQR, -3 to 5; P = .02), whereas the left ventricular stroke work index for esmolol was 3 mL/m2 (IQR, 0 to 8) vs 1 mL/m2 for the control group (IQR, -2 to 5; P = .03). For arterial lactatemia, median AUC for esmolol was -0.1 mmol/L (IQR, -0.6 to 0.2) vs 0.1 mmol/L for the control group (IQR, -0.3 for 0.6; P = .007); for norepinephrine, -0.11 μg/kg/min (IQR, -0.46 to 0.02) for the esmolol group vs -0.01 μg/kg/min (IQR, -0.2 to 0.44) for the control group (P = .003). Fluid requirements were reduced in the esmolol group: median AUC was 3975 mL/24 h (IQR, 3663 to 4200) vs 4425 mL/24 h(IQR, 4038 to 4775) for the control group (P < .001). We found no clinically relevant differences between groups in other cardiopulmonary variables nor in rescue therapy requirements. Twenty-eight day mortality was 49.4% in the esmolol group vs 80.5% in the control group (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.39; 95% CI, 0.26 to 0.59; P < .001).
Conclusions and relevance: For patients in septic shock, open-label use of esmolol vs standard care was associated with reductions in heart rates to achieve target levels, without increased adverse events. The observed improvement in mortality and other secondary clinical outcomes warrants further investigation.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT01231698.