Intro: Vasoactive substances are powerful therapeutic medications that can boost a patient’s blood pressure and perfusion to target organs. They are often used in resuscitation to support tissue perfusion though their benefits are mostly unproven and may be harmful in certain circumstances (i.e. hypovolemia, hemorrhage). The cognitive response to hypotension should not be reaching for a pressor. The primary therapy for any sick hypotensive patient is treatment of the underlying pathology.
While many patients will respond to these medications, we occasionally encounter non-responder-patients who despite substantial doses do not show hemodynamic parameter improvements. Absence of response can result from a number of causes including misidentification of the underlying pathology (i.e. I missed the massive PE or pericardial tamponade thinking the patient was in septic shock). Premature diagnostic closure can lead us to simply push on with higher doses of pressors and adding additional pressors. However, there should be a cognitive pause at this point where the clinician reassesses the situation, considers alternate causes and therapeutics. Below is a list of pathologic conditions that complicate other diagnoses and are frequently missed as causes of non-response to vasopressors. This is the list I consider during my cognitive pause. Read more →