What are the cardiovascular adverse effects of mechanical ventilation?

Updated: Apr 07, 2020
  • Author: Allon Amitai, MD; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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The heart, great vessels, and pulmonary vasculature lie within the chest cavity and are subject to the increased intrathoracic pressures associated with mechanical ventilation. The result is a decrease in cardiac output due to decreased venous return to the right heart (dominant), right ventricular dysfunction, and altered left ventricular distensibility.

The decrease in cardiac output from reduction of right ventricular preload is more pronounced in the hypovolemic patient and in those with a low ejection fraction.

Exaggerated respiratory variation on the arterial pressure waveform is a clue that positive-pressure ventilation is significantly affecting venous return and cardiac output. In the absence of an arterial line, a good pulse oximetry waveform can be equally instructive. A reduction in the variation after volume loading confirms this effect. These effects will most frequently be seen in patients with preload-dependent cardiac function (that is, operating on the right side of the Starling curve) and in hypovolemic patients or in those with otherwise compromised venous return.

Increased alveolar-capillary permeability secondary to pulmonary inflammatory changes may, alternatively, contribute to increased cardiac output.

For patients with Swan-Ganz catheterization in place for whom cardiac output may be measured (usually in the ICU setting), PEEP studies may be performed. This is performed by adjusting PEEP, monitoring oxygenation by peripheral oxygen saturation or arterial oxygen measurement via blood gas sampling, and measuring the associated cardiac output. The process is repeated at various PEEP settings, and the results are recorded. The practitioner can then review the results and determine the optimal PEEP for that patient at that time. This procedure is not generally performed in the ED but underlies the association of ventilation strategy and cardiac output.

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