What is the pathophysiology of multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS) in sepsis?

Updated: Jan 27, 2020
  • Author: Ali H Al-Khafaji, MD, MPH, FACP, FCCP, FCCM; Chief Editor: Michael R Pinsky, MD, CM, Dr(HC), FCCP, FAPS, MCCM  more...
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Sepsis is described as an autodestructive process that permits extension of the normal pathophysiologic response to infection to involve otherwise normal tissues and results in MODS. Organ dysfunction or organ failure may be the first clinical sign of sepsis, and no organ system is immune from the consequences of the inflammatory excesses of sepsis. Mortality increases as organ failure increases.

Although uncontrolled, once MODS develops systemic evidence of both proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory up-regulation are usually present, suggesting that failure of host defense homeostasis is the final pathway from sepsis to MODS, rather than simple hypotension-induced end-organ injury, as may occur with hemorrhagic shock. Survival from severe sepsis with MODS is usually associated with a generalized reduction in both the proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory response.

A novel hypothesis has recently emerged that survival from severe sepsis requires a generalized down-regulation of the body’s immune response, energetic functions, and associated organ performance. Thus, MODS may by the host’s adaptive response to overwhelming inflammation, allowing inflammation to clear without causing permanent end-organ harm. As discussed below, all organs reveal a generalized hyporesponsiveness that is clearly abnormal in health but may mark a survival strategy in severe sepsis.

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