Autonomic Nervous System Dysfunction in Pediatric Sepsis

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28 Scopus citations


The autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays a major role in maintaining homeostasis through key adaptive responses to stress, including severe infections and sepsis. The ANS-mediated processes most relevant during sepsis include regulation of cardiac output and vascular tone, control of breathing and airway resistance, inflammation and immune modulation, gastrointestinal motility and digestion, and regulation of body temperature. ANS dysfunction (ANSD) represents an imbalanced or maladaptive response to injury and is prevalent in pediatric sepsis. Most of the evidence on ANSD comes from studies of heart rate variability, which is a marker of ANS function and is inversely correlated with organ dysfunction and mortality. In addition, there is evidence that other measures of ANSD, such as respiratory rate variability, skin thermoregulation, and baroreflex and chemoreflex sensitivity, are associated with outcomes in critical illness. The relevance of understanding ANSD in the context of pediatric sepsis stems from the fact that it might play an important role in the pathophysiology of sepsis, is associated with outcomes, and can be measured continuously and noninvasively. Here we review the physiology and dysfunction of the ANS during critical illness, discuss methods for measuring ANS function in the intensive care unit, and review the diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic value of understanding ANSD in pediatric sepsis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)280-290
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Pediatrics
Issue numberPMID: 30356758
StatePublished - 2018


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