European journal of internal medicine. vol:16 issue:2 pages:71-82
Patients with critical illness, particularly those who depend on intensive care for a prolonged period of time, have a high morbidity and mortality. The acute and chronic phases of critical illness are associated with distinct endocrine alterations. Acute endocrine adaptations to the severe stress of critical illness, comprising an activated anterior pituitary function, have been selected by nature and can, as such, be considered as beneficial for surviving. These adaptations disappear or wane during the prolonged phase of critical illness. In this phase there is a reduced pulsatile secretion of different anterior pituitary hormones and the so-called "wasting syndrome" occurs. This prolonged endocrine/metabolic stress response is quite different from the acute response and may, to some extent, no longer be adaptive. Intervention within the endocrine system, however, remains highly controversial, as it is difficult to differentiate between beneficial adaptations and harmful abnormalities and to outline strategies for therapy. Insulin infusion titrated to maintain normoglycemia may be a notable exception, as this intervention has been proven to increase survival and reduce morbidity of surgical intensive care patients. Treatment of "relative adrenal failure" with hydrocortisone also appears to improve the outcome of patients with septic shock, but diagnostic and dosing issues still remain unresolved. Although extensive research has shown that infusion of hypothalamic-releasing peptides is able to restore physiological hormonal patterns within the somatotropic, thyrotropic, and gonadal axes and, thereby, to generate a controlled anabolic response, further research is needed to investigate whether such interventions actually improve the outcome of critical illness.