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Pressors / Inotropes


Vasopressors and Inotropes are a powerful class of drugs that have become the therapeutic cornorstone for the management of shock. These medications enhance vasoconstriction and/or contractility with the end goal to elevate mean arterial pressure (MAP). 


Although many of these agents have been used since the 1940s, there are very few clinical trials that have actually compared these agents to each other. In all, the use of these agents largely reflect expert opinion, animal data, physician preference and the use of surrogate end points (eg. tissue oxygenation) as a proxy for decreased morbidity and mortality. 


Physiology / Biochemistry

Endogenously, catecholamines are synthesized from the amino acid tyrosine and are secreted from either the brain stem, locus ceruleus or adrenal medulla during flight or fight response.


Catecholamine synthesis


Catecholamines act mainly on adrenergic receptors as well as dopamine receptors.  



  • apply proximal to site of extravasation (causes vasodilation which increases blood flow to the area and helps distribute the vesicant)


Nitroglycerin 2% Ointment

  • apply 1" strip to outer border of extravasation

Terbutaline 1mg subQ

  • dilute 1:10 with 0.9% NaCl for larger affected areas or 1:1 for localized ischemia

  • inject 10mL of terbutaline solution as five separate injections subQ into the edge of extravasation using a 25G needle (change the needle with each injection)


  • reversible nonselective alpha-adrenergic antagonist

  • used for extravasation of vasoactive agents

    • dopamine​

    • norepinephrine

    • epinephrine

    • dobutamine

    • phenylephrine

    • vasopressin

  • rate-limiting step

  • THB (hydroxylates)


Found in:

  • locus coeruleus

  • sympathetic nerve

  • adrenal medulla

Found in:

  • nucleus succubus

  • substantia nigra

Found in:

  • adrenal medulla

Alpha-1 Receptors

  • located in vascular walls

  • induce vasoconstriction

  • also present in the heart and can increase duration of contraction without chronotropy

Beta-1 Receptors

  • most common in the heart

  • increase inotropy and chronotropy

  • minimal vasoconstriction


Bet-2 Receptors

  • found in blood vessels and cause vasodilation

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