The availability of handheld, noninvasive sublingual video-microscopes allows for visualization of the microcirculation in critically ill patients. Recent studies demonstrate that reduced numbers of blood-perfused microvessels and increased penetration of erythrocytes into the endothelial glycocalyx are essential components of microvascular dysfunction. The aim of this study was to identify novel microvascular variables to determine the level of microvascular dysfunction in sepsis and its relationship with clinical variables.
This observational, prospective, cross-sectional study included 51 participants, of which 34 critically ill sepsis patients were recruited from intensive care units of a university hospital. Seventeen healthy volunteers served as controls. All participants underwent sublingual videomicroscopy by sidestream darkfield imaging. A new developed version of the Glycocheck™ software was used to quantify vascular density, perfused boundary region (PBR-an inverse variable of endothelial glycocalyx dimensions), red blood cell (RBC) velocity, RBC content, and blood flow in sublingual microvessels with diameters between 4 and 25 µm.
A detailed analysis of adjacent diameter classes (1 µm each) of vessels between 4 and 25 µm revealed a severe reduction of vascular density in very small capillaries (5–7 µm), which correlated with markers of sepsis severity. Analysis of RBC velocity (VRBC) revealed a strong dependency between capillary and feed vessel VRBC in sepsis patients (R2 = 0.63, p < 0.0001) but not in healthy controls (R2 = 0.04, p = 0.43), indicating impaired capillary (de-)recruitment in sepsis. This finding enabled the calculation of capillary recruitment and dynamic capillary blood volume (CBVdynamic). Moreover, adjustment of PBR to feed vessel VRBC further improved discrimination between sepsis patients and controls by about 50%. By combining these dynamic microvascular and glycocalyx variables, we developed the microvascular health score (MVHSdynamic™), which decreased from 7.4 [4.6–8.7] in controls to 1.8 [1.4–2.7] in sepsis patients (p < 0.0001) and correlated with sepsis severity.
We introduce new important diameter-specific quantification and differentiated analysis of RBC kinetics, a key to understand microvascular dysfunction in sepsis. MVHSdynamic, which has a broad bandwidth to detect microvascular (dys-) function, might serve as a valuable tool to detect microvascular impairment in critically ill patients.