Difference between Dopamine and Dobutamine

Updated on December 5, 2017

Dopamine and dobutamine are very similar sounding names for two different kinds of medication with different uses. This article seeks to dispel any confusion that may come up when talking about these drugs.


A vial of dopamine for intravenous administration

Dopamine is a medication usually administered for the treatment of extremely low blood pressure (hypotension) and symptoms caused by slow heartbeat. It is used as an alternative to epinephrine treatment during cardiac arrest. Moreover, it used to treat low cardiac output and decreased perfusion of body organs caused by sepsis, trauma, or shock. Dopamine is also the preferred treatment for newborn babies experiencing low blood pressure. Administered intravenously or directly into the bone marrow (i.e. intraosseously), dopamine typically takes effect within five minutes. Dosage is increased accordingly for maximum efficacy. Dopamine is the generic name for Intropin, Revimine, and Dopastat. Dopamine is currently in the World Health Organization’s list of most effective and safe medications essential in a healthcare system.

Dopamine can cause certain side effects such as anxiety, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, headaches, vomiting, and shortness of breath, among others. This drug is also known to cause serious side effects such as kidney damage, life-threatening arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), and gangrene. Local tissue death may occur if dopamine is wrongfully administered.

A 250 mg vial of dobutamine

Dobutamine is a prescription drug that is administered for the treatment of heart failure and inadequate blood circulation caused by failure of the heart ventricles to work efficiently (i.e. cardiogenic shock). Its inotropic action works to treat serious but reversible heart failure by increasing the output of the heart. Dobutamine is also administered for the treatment of adverse heart conditions that may have been caused by organic heart disease or surgical procedures conducted on the heart. Hospitals also make use of dobutamine to detect coronary artery disease.

Adverse effects of this drug include angina, hypertension, irregular heartbeat (arrythmia), and tachycardia, or abnormal heart rate when the heart is at rest. In addition, Dobutamine is known to cause common side effects such as vomiting, an upset stomach, leg cramps, and headaches, to name a few. It can interact with other prescription or non-prescription drugs such as antidepressants (citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine) and beta blockers such as metropolol and bisoprolol.

Dopamine vs Dobutamine

So what’s the difference between dopamine and dobutamine? While both medications are used to treat heart problems, dopamine is administered specifically to treat symptoms caused by a slow heart rate and hypotension. Dobutamine, on the other hand, is used for the treatment of heart failure and its symptoms such as insufficient blood flow. Dopamine can be administered intravenously or intraosseously (injecting directly to the bone marrow), while dobutamine can only be introduced into the body intravenously.

Dopamine occurs naturally in the body as neurotransmitters used to bring signals to cells in the nervous system. In contrast, dobutamine is produced synthetically and works on the beta 1 receptors in the sympathetic nervous system.

Dopamine is known to result in primary side effects such as vomiting, nausea, irregular heartbeat, chills, anxiety, and shortness of breath, to name a few. It can cause serious side effects life-threatening arrhythmia, gangrene, and kidney damage. On the other hand, dobutamine is known to cause primary side effects such as hypertension, irregular heartbeat, chest pains (angina), and increased heart rate (tachyarrythmia).

Comparison Chart

Administered to treat symptoms caused by slow heart rate and extremely low blood pressureUsed for the treatment of heart failure and its symptoms such as insufficient blood flow
Occurs naturally in the bodyProduced synthetically
Can cause side effects such as nausea, headache, vomiting, etc.Can cause side effects such as fever, leg cramps, tingling sensations, and more
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