Septic shock: a microcirculation disease


Purpose of review The aim of this study was to discuss the implication of microvascular dysfunction in septic shock.

Recent findings Resuscitation of sepsis has focused on systemic haemodynamics and, more recently, on peripheral perfusion indices. However, central microvascular perfusion is altered in sepsis and these alterations often persist despite normalization of various macro haemodynamic resuscitative goals. Endothelial dysfunction is a key element in sepsis pathophysiology. It is responsible for the sepsis-induced hypotension. In addition, endothelial dysfunction is also implicated involved in the activation of inflammation and coagulation processes leading to amplification of the septic response and development of organ dysfunction. It also promotes an increase in permeability, mostly at venular side, and impairs microvascular perfusion and hence tissue oxygenation.

Microvascular alterations are characterized by heterogeneity in blood flow distribution, with adequately perfused areas in close vicinity to not perfused areas, thus characterizing the distributive nature of septic shock. Such microvascular alterations have profound implications, as these are associated with organ dysfunction and unfavourable outcomes. Also, the response to therapy is highly variable and cannot be predicted by systemic hemodynamic assessment and hence cannot be detected by classical haemodynamic tools.

Summary Microcirculation is a key element in the pathophysiology of sepsis. Even if microcirculation-targeted therapy is not yet ready for the prime time, understanding the processes implicated in microvascular dysfunction is important to prevent chasing systemic hemodynamic variables when this does not contribute to improve tissue perfusion.

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