Category: Critical Care
Keywords: Vasopressors, Hypotension, Shock, Sepsis (PubMed Search)
Although it is well-documented that there is no true "maximum" dose of vasopressor medications, further blood pressure support as doses escalate to very high levels tends to be limited. As such, debate has raged in Critical Care as to when is the "right" time to start a second vasoactive medication. The VASST trial (Russell et al, NEJM, 2008) is considered to be the landmark trial in this area, and found a trend towards improvement with early addition of vasopressin to norepinephrine, but no statistically significant difference, and may have been underpowered.
Partly as a result of VASST, the pendulum has tended to swing towards maximizing a single vasoactive before adding a second over the past decade. The relatively high cost of vasopressin in the US has also driven this for many institutions. However, more recently a "multi-modal" approach, emphasizing an earlier move to second, or even third, vasoactive medication, is increasingly popular. Although cost is often prohibitive for angiotensin-2 given controversial benefits, many now advocate for targeting adrenergic receptors (e.g. with norepinephrine or epinephrine), vasopressin receptors (e.g. with vasopressin or terlipressin) and the RAAS system (e.g. with angiotensin 2) simultaneously in patients with refractory shock. A recent review by Wieruszewski and Khanna in Critical Care (see references) outlines this approach well.
Bottom Line: When to add a second vasoactive medication (e.g. vasopressin) for patients with refractory shock after a first vasoactive is controversial and not known. Current practice is trending towards earlier addition of a second (or third) agent, especially if targeting different receptors, but there is limited high-quality evidence to support this approach. Many practicioners (including this author) still follow VASST and consider vasopressin once doses of around 5-15 micrograms/min (non-weight based) of norepinephrine are reached.
Wieruszewski PM, Khanna AK. Vasopressor Choice and Timing in Vasodilatory Shock. Crit Care. 2022 Mar 22;26(1):76. doi: 10.1186/s13054-022-03911-7. PMID: 35337346; PMCID: PMC8957156.
Russell JA, Walley KR, Singer J, Gordon AC, Hébert PC, Cooper DJ, Holmes CL, Mehta S, Granton JT, Storms MM, Cook DJ, Presneill JJ, Ayers D; VASST Investigators. Vasopressin versus norepinephrine infusion in patients with septic shock. N Engl J Med. 2008 Feb 28;358(9):877-87. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa067373. PMID: 18305265.
Early addition of Terlipressin: Article Title (ijccm.org)