- Open Access
The International Sepsis Forum's frontiers in sepsis: high cardiac output should be maintained in severe sepsis
Critical Care volume 7, Article number: 276 (2003)
Despite a usually normal or high cardiac output, severe sepsis is associated with inadequate tissue oxygenation, leading to organ failure and death. Some authors have suggested that raising cardiac output and oxygen delivery to predetermined supranormal values may be associated with improved survival. While this may be of benefit in certain patients, bringing all patients to similar, supranormal values, is simplistic. It is much preferable to titrate therapy according to the needs of each individual patient. A combination of variables should be used for this purpose, in addition to a careful clinical evaluation, including not only cardiac output but also the mixed venous oxygen saturation and the blood lactate concentrations. The concept is to assess the adequacy of the cardiac output in patients with severe sepsis, enabling management strategies aimed at optimizing cardiac output to be tailored to the individual patient.
Sepsis is associated with systemic, mediator-induced alterations in oxygen utilization, including increased oxygen demand, altered oxygen extraction, and decreased myocardial contractility (Fig. 1). Hence, despite a normal or high cardiac output, severe sepsis and septic shock are characterized by an inadequate organ oxygenation, leading ultimately to multiple organ failure and death. Almost 20 years ago, Abraham and colleagues  noted that survivors from septic shock had significantly higher cardiac indexes prior to the shock episode than did nonsurvivors, leading to the suggestion that pushing patients to reach high and even 'supranormal' levels of cardiac output could be beneficial. This early hypothesis has fueled an ongoing debate regarding the potential benefit or harm of this strategy in the patient with septic shock.
The 'supranormal' studies
Several groups have indicated increased survival in various groups of patients treated with a strategy to increase cardiac output or oxygen delivery (DO2) to so-called 'supranormal' values (cardiac index ≥ 4.5 l/min per m2, DO2 < 600 ml/min per m2 and oxygen consumption [VO2] >170 ml/min per m2) [2–9]. However, two notable studies conducted in mixed groups of critically ill patients by Hayes and coworkers  and Gattinoni and coworkers  showed that supranormal DO2 values do not result in improved outcomes. A possible explanation for those findings is that, unlike many of the other studies in this field, the heterogeneity of the critically ill patients included in the studies influenced the results. Thus, although some individuals might well have benefited from the trial strategy, these positive results may have been negated by harmful effects in other patients who perhaps had already been adequately resuscitated and therefore received excessive doses of vasopressor agents or fluids. There is little doubt that, in certain patients, achieving and maintaining high levels of cardiac output is associated with improved outcomes; the difficulty lies in identifying those patients.
Should we maintain adequate cardiac output in all patients with septic shock?
The available studies suggest that rather than protocolize all patients to increased cardiac output and DO2, this strategy should be tailored to the individual patient. Hayes and coworkers  suggested that survivors from septic shock are characterized by an ability to increase DO2 and VO2, whereas nonsurvivors do not have sufficient physiologic reserve to do this, and in such patients excessive doses of vasopressors or fluids worsen an already bad situation. Rather than making attempts to target cardiac output and DO2 randomly in all patients, our approach should rather be to try to restore hemodynamic stability, which will necessitate different approaches in different patients. Indeed, no one would dispute the need for clinical interventions to enhance DO2 and support the circulation where tissue perfusion is clearly inadequate. The problem lies in identifying those patients in whom tissue hypoxia is less overt, who may in fact have 'normal' hemodynamic parameters, and augmenting DO2 in such patients may necessitate reaching 'supranormal' values.
So, how can we determine which patients require what therapy? Perhaps the mixed venous oxygen saturation (SvO2) is the most important parameter to follow. SvO2 provides an indication of the degree of oxygen extracted by the organs before the blood returns to the right heart and hence gives a measure of the balance between DO2 and VO2, thus providing an indication of the ability of the cardiac output to meet the individual's oxygenation needs. Admittedly, SvO2 is a global parameter and gives no specific regional information, but neither does cardiac output; in fact, it may be interesting to combine SvO2 and cardiac output (Fig. 2). Indeed, this is one of the problems with the less invasive methods of measuring cardiac output; we are all agreed that 'less invasive' is the way to go, but how does one interpret cardiac output values without knowledge of the SvO2? Some may say that SvO2 monitoring is useless in sepsis or septic shock because, in sepsis, SvO2 may be normal or high despite regional tissue hypoxia, because of altered tissue oxygen extraction. However, clinical evidence shows that SvO2 does fluctuate in patients with sepsis or septic shock , and there are two major arguments in support of the value of SvO2 monitoring in sepsis. First, Ronco and coworkers  noted that patients who are about to die may still have high oxygen extraction capabilities. Hence, in septic shock, a high or normal SvO2 does not necessarily mean that oxygen extraction cannot increase further. Second, Rivers and coworkers  showed, in a patient population treated in an emergency department, that the initial central venous oxygen saturation (measured as a substitute for SvO2) was only 48.6 ± 11.2%. Hence, it is only after initial resuscitation that central venous oxygen saturation (or SvO2) may reach normal (or supranormal) values. Conversely, it may decrease again if there is hypovolemia or myocardial depression.
Importantly, it is not necessary to calculate DO2. Moreover, the relationship between VO2 and DO2 is subject to mathematical coupling of data. In complex cases, the relation between cardiac index and oxygen extraction ratio may be helpful, especially in anemia [15, 16]. Finally, blood lactate levels may help to identify the patient who requires a higher cardiac output because survivors from septic shock have significantly lower initial blood lactate levels and their blood lactate levels are raised for shorter periods of time .
Another important feature may be the timing of optimization. In the early studies conducted by Shoemaker and coworkers  that showed improved outcome in surgical patients, optimization was commenced before the surgical procedure. Rivers and coworkers  recently showed the beneficial effects of early goal-directed therapy, within 6 hours of diagnosis of septic shock, over standard therapy. The methods for increasing cardiac output or DO2 (e.g. fluids, inotropes, and blood transfusions) may also impact on results.
More important than achieving supranormal DO2 and, hence, oxygen consumption in those patients who may benefit from this strategy is achieving optimal hemodynamic status in all patients (Fig. 3). If augmentation of DO2 is associated with a reduction in serum lactate levels and improved target organ perfusion, then these interventions may be continued. Each patient must be assessed according to their clinical (urine output, skin perfusion, mental status), hemodynamic (arterial pressure, cardiac output), and oxygenation (SvO2, blood lactate) parameters. Practising good medicine is never simple, and applying protocols to reach supranormal DO2 in all patients is naïve. The challenge is to identify which approach is needed in which patient so that all patients receive optimal care.
DO2 = oxygen delivery
SvO2 = mixed venous oxygen saturation
VO2 = oxygen consumption.
Abraham E, Bland R, Cobo J: Sequential cardiorespiratory patterns associated with outcome in septic shock. Chest 1984, 85: 75-81.
Shoemaker WC, Appel PL, Kram HB, Waxman K, Lee TS: Prospective trial of supranormal values of survivors as therapeutic goals in high-risk surgical patients. Chest 1988, 94: 1176-1186.
Bishop MH, Shoemaker WC, Appel PL, Meade P, Ordog GJ, Wasserberger J, Wo CJ, Rimle DA, Kram HB, Umali R, Kennedy F, Shuleshko J, Stephen CM, Shori SK, Thadepalli H: Prospective, randomized trial of survivor values of cardiac index, oxygen delivery, and oxygen consumption as resuscitation endpoints in severe trauma. J Trauma 1995, 38: 780-787.
Velmahos GC, Demetriades D, Shoemaker WC, Chan LS, Tatevossian R, Wo CC, Vassiliu P, Cornwell EE III, Murray JA, Roth B, Belzberg H, Asensio JA, Berne TV: Endpoints of resuscitation of critically injured patients: normal or supranormal? A prospective randomized trial. Ann Surg 2000, 232: 409-418. 10.1097/00000658-200009000-00013
Hayes MA, Yau EH, Timmins AC, Hinds CJ, Watson D: Response of critically ill patients to treatment aimed at achieving supranormal oxygen delivery and consumption. Chest 1993, 103: 886-895.
Hayes MA, Timmins AC, Yau EHS, Palazzo M, Watson D, Hinds CJ: Oxygen transport patterns in patients with sepsis syndrome or septic shock: Influence of treatment and relationship to outcome. Crit Care Med 1997, 25: 926-936. 10.1097/00003246-199706000-00007
Edwards JD, Brown GCS, Nightingale P, Slater RM, Faragher EB: Use of survivors' cardiorespiratory values as therapeutic goals in septic shock. Crit Care Med 1989, 17: 1098-1103.
Tuchschmidt J, Fried J, Astiz M, Rackow E: Elevation of cardiac output and oxygen delivery improves outcome in septic shock. Chest 1992, 102: 216-220.
Lobo SM, Salgado PF, Castillo VG, Borim AA, Polachini CA, Palchetti JC, Brienzi SL, de Oliveira GG: Effects of maximizing oxygen delivery on morbidity and mortality in high-risk surgical patients. Crit Care Med 2000, 28: 3396-3404. 10.1097/00003246-200010000-00003
Hayes MA, Timmins AC, Yau EH, Palazzo M, Hinds CJ, Watson D: Elevation of systemic oxygen delivery in the treatment of critically ill patients. N Engl J Med 1994, 330: 1717-1722. 10.1056/NEJM199406163302404
Gattinoni L, Brazzi L, Pelosi P, Latini R, Tognoni G, Pesenti A, Fumagalli R: A trial of goal-oriented hemodynamic therapy in critically ill patients. N Engl J Med 1995, 333: 1025-1032. 10.1056/NEJM199510193331601
Krafft P, Steltzer H, Hiesmayr M, Klimscha W, Hammerle AF: Mixed venous oxygen saturation in critically ill septic shock patients. The role of defined events. Chest 1993, 103: 900-906.
Ronco JJ, Fenwick JC, Tweeddale MG, Wiggs BR, Phang PT, Cooper DJ, Cunningham KF, Russell JA, Walley KR: Identification of the critical oxygen delivery for anaerobic metabolism in critically ill septic and nonseptic humans. JAMA 1993, 270: 1724-1730. 10.1001/jama.270.14.1724
Rivers E, Nguyen B, Havstad S, Ressler J, Muzzin A, Knoblich B, Peterson E, Tomlanovich M: Early goal-directed therapy in the treatment of severe sepsis and septic shock. N Engl J Med 2001, 345: 1368-1377. 10.1056/NEJMoa010307
Silance PG, Simon C, Vincent JL: The relation between cardiac index and oxygen extraction in acutely ill patients. Chest 1994, 105: 1190-1197.
Yalavatti GS, De Backer D, Vincent JL: The assessment of cardiac index in anemic patients. Chest 2000, 118: 782-787. 10.1378/chest.118.3.782
Bakker J, Gris P, Coffernils M, Kahn RJ, Vincent JL: Serial blood lactate levels can predict the development of multiple organ failure following septic shock. Am J Surg 1996, 171: 221-226. 10.1016/S0002-9610(97)89552-9
About this article
Cite this article
Vincent, JL. The International Sepsis Forum's frontiers in sepsis: high cardiac output should be maintained in severe sepsis. Crit Care 7, 276 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1186/cc2349
- mixed venous oxygen
- oxygen delivery
- oxygen uptake