Determinants of catecholamine and cortisol responses to lower extremity revascularization

M. J. Breslow, S. D. Parker, S. M. Frank, E. J. Norris, H. Yates, H. Raff, P. Rock, R. Christopherson, B. A. Rosenfeld, C. Beattie

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Background: Surgical trauma elicits diffuse changes in hormonal secretion and autonomic nervous system activity. Despite studies demonstrating modulation of the stress response by different anesthetic/analgesic regimens, little is known regarding the determinants of catecholamine and cortisol responses to surgery. Methods: Plasma catecholamines and cortisol secretion data were obtained from 60 patients undergoing lower extremity revascularization. Patients were randomized to receive either general anesthesia combined with patient-controlled intravenous morphine (GA) or epidural anesthesia combined with epidural fentanyl analgesia (RA). All aspects of intra- and postoperative clinical care were defined by written protocol. Plasma catecholamines were measured before induction, intraoperatively, and for the first 18 h postoperatively (by HPLC). Urine cortisol was measured intra- and postoperatively using RIA. Data were evaluated using univariate and multivariate analyses to evaluate demographic and perioperative variables as determinants of stress hormone secretion. Results: Plasma catecholamines increased during skin closure in the GA group, and remained higher relative to the RA group in the postoperative period. Multivariate analysis indicated that age and anesthetic regimen predicted increases in catecholamines during skin closure (P < 0.005), although duration of surgery, blood loss, and body temperature were not correlated. Early postoperative norepinephrine concentrations were correlated with pain score and duration of surgery (P < 0.004), but not with anesthetic management, blood loss, or body temperature. All postoperative norepinephrine levels were highly correlated (r = 0.7) with norepinephrine levels during skin closure. Cortisol excretion was higher postoperatively than intraoperatively. No patient or perioperative variable predicted cortisol excretion, and cortisol excretion was not correlated with catecholamine levels at any time. Conclusions: These data indicate that patient factors, such as age and inherent sympathetic responsivity, are important determinants of the catecholamine response to surgery. Modulation of the norepinephrine response by regional anesthesia/analgesia appears to be related, in part, to superior analgesia. The lack of correlation between catecholamine and cortisol secretion indicates that the stress response may consist of discrete systems responding to different stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1202-1209
Number of pages8
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 1993


  • Analgesia: postoperative
  • Anesthetic techniques: general; regional
  • Autonomic nervous system: catecholamines: stress response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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    Breslow, M. J., Parker, S. D., Frank, S. M., Norris, E. J., Yates, H., Raff, H., Rock, P., Christopherson, R., Rosenfeld, B. A., & Beattie, C. (1993). Determinants of catecholamine and cortisol responses to lower extremity revascularization. Anesthesiology, 79(6), 1202-1209.