This class of drugs can be lifesaving in emergency medical situations.

Vasopressors are a group of medicines that contract (tighten) blood vessels and raise blood pressure.

They're used to treat severely low blood pressure, especially in people who are critically ill.

Very low blood pressure can lead to organ damage and even death.

These drugs can help doctors treat patients who are in shock or are undergoing surgery.

Vasopressors have been used since the 1940s. They're commonly given in combination with medicines called inotropes (which affect cardiac muscle contraction).

Common Vasopressors

Medicines — including synthetic hormones — that are used as vasopressors include:

  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine
  • Vasopressin (Vasostrict)
  • Dopamine
  • Phenylephrine
  • Dobutamine

Vasopressor Precautions

Vasopressors should only be given under the supervision of a medical professional. These are powerful drugs, and they can be dangerous if used incorrectly.

The medicines may reduce blood flow to some parts of the body.

Vasopressors are commonly given in an emergency situation, but if you can, tell your doctor if you have any of the following conditions before receiving a vasopressor:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Circulation problems
  • A history of blood clots
  • An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • Varicose veins
  • Asthma
  • Allergies to medications

Side Effects of Vasopressors

Tell your doctor if you experience any of the following serious side effects after receiving a vasopressor:

  • Slow or uneven heartbeat
  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Pain, burning, irritation, or discoloration of the skin
  • Sudden numbness, weakness, or a cold feeling anywhere in your body
  • Trouble breathing
  • Little or no urination
  • Problems with speech, vision, or balance
  • Signs of dangerously high blood pressure (including severe headache, ringing in your ears, blurred vision, confusion, anxiety, chest pain, or seizures)
  • Signs of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, such as rash, hives, chest tightness, or swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue

If possible, let your doctor know about all prescription, non-prescription, illegal, recreational, herbal, nutritional, or dietary drugs you're taking before receiving a vasopressor.

Vasopressors and Pregnancy

If possible, let your doctor (or emergency room physician) know if you're pregnant before receiving a vasopressor.

Your doctor will have to decide whether the benefits of using these drugs outweigh the risks.

Also, talk to your healthcare provider before breastfeeding if you've received a vasopressor.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Sepsis, Mayo Clinic.
  • Vasopressors for Septic Shock, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.


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