Nonlinear dynamics, complex systems, and the pathobiology of critical illness

Timothy G. Buchman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Purpose of review: The review considers problems in critical illness and critical care in the context of complex systems science. Normal physiology is characterized by nonlinear dynamics, and it appears that the pathophysiology of critical illness alters those dynamics. Recent findings: Recent evidence confirms and extends the observation that the rich variability that characterizes normal physiology "decomplexifies" with critical illness. Experimental data in animals and now in humans suggests that physiologic support that mimics normal variability may reduce the severity and/or duration of the illness. Summary: Physiologic dynamics in health and in critical illness appear to reflect complex, interconnected systems biology. Alterations in illness and during recovery may provide important clues to the underlying structure of the system. With knowledge of the structure, therapy could be better focused toward supporting both function and dynamics, offering hope for improved outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-382
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Opinion in Critical Care
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Complex systems
  • Critical illness
  • Nonlinear dynamics
  • Stochastic resonance


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