Sepsis is a common condition encountered by emergency and critical care physicians, with significant costs, both economic and human. Myocardial dysfunction in sepsis is a well-recognized but poorly understood phenomenon. There is an extensive body of literature on this subject, yet results are conflicting and no objective definition of septic cardiomyopathy exists, representing a critical knowledge gap.
In this article, we review the pathophysiology of septic cardiomyopathy, covering the effects of key inflammatory mediators on both the heart and the peripheral vasculature, highlighting the interconnectedness of these two systems. We focus on the extant literature on echocardiographic and laboratory assessment of the heart in sepsis, highlighting gaps therein and suggesting avenues for future research. Implications for treatment are briefly discussed.
As a result of conflicting data, echocardiographic measures of left ventricular (systolic or diastolic) or right ventricular function cannot currently provide reliable prognostic information in patients with sepsis. Natriuretic peptides and cardiac troponins are of similarly unclear utility. Heterogeneous classification of illness, treatment variability, and lack of formal diagnostic criteria for septic cardiomyopathy contribute to the conflicting results. Development of formal diagnostic criteria, and use thereof in future studies, may help elucidate the link between cardiac performance and outcomes in patients with sepsis.