A study in Crit Care Med suggests sepsis patients that are on β-blockers might have a survival advantage over patients that are not on β-blockers. Despite β-blocked patients having more prior cardiac disease, hospitalisations and cardiac risk factors.

The hypothesis that  β-blockers might have protective effects in sepsis is not entirely new. At least one clinical trial is underway to explore how beta-blockers influence sepsis.

The theory is sound. Early stage sepsis results in a cathecholaminergic overdrive that could result in myocardial injury or dysfunction. Septic patients who get cardiac dysfunction or injury have a two- to fourfold increase in mortality.

Another possible mechanism is how that same cathecholamine storm stimulate excess cytokine production. By putting a β-blocker lid on that cathecholamine storm perhaps we could put a lid the cytokine storm that then results in inflammation, SIRS and multi-organ failure.

The study
Retrospective study of hospital records, databases and ambulance documentation. Between 2003 and 2008 the authors identified a population of 9465 patients diagnosed with sepsis. 1061 (11,4%) patients were on β-blockers on admission while 8404 (88,8%) remained unexposed to β-blockers.

For obvious reasons the patients on β-blockers had a higher prevalence of risk factors, cardiac disease and hospitalisations than the β-blocker-naive group. 

Despite that, the patients who were on β-blockers had a lower mortality.

Patients previously prescribed β-blockers had a mortality of 17,7% while the non-exposed control groups 28 day mortality was 22,1%.

Take-home message
This study, much like this blog by the way, comes with more limitations and disclaimers than the swiss navy. Still, chronic β-blocker prescription may result in increased survival  in patients with sepsis.

This could happen through attenuation of the early catecholamine surge. The β-blockers protect the heart from overload and injury. A more intriguing explanation is how β-blockers modulate the inflammatory response that is central to sepsis pathogenesis.

Should the cathecholamine storm be modulated as early as possible? Even in the emergency room or prehospitally? Administering β-blockers to a potentially really, really sick patient sounds terribly counterintuitive, but who knows?

Study lives here:
Previous prescription of β-blockers is associated with reduced mortality among patients hospitalized in intensive care units for sepsis*. Macchia A, Romero M, Comignani PD, Mariani J, D’Ettorre A, Prini N, Santopinto M, Tognoni G. Crit Care Med. 2012 Oct;40(10):2768-72.

This entry was posted in Emergency Medicine, Infectious diseases, Intensive Care. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: β-BLOCKER IN SEPSIS – A TRIAL |

  2. Pingback: The LITFL Review 078

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *