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In part 1, the basics of ventriculo-arterial coupling [VAC] were described and related to the Guyton Diagram. In this second part, the notion of cardiac performance [Eh] is explored in relation to venous Doppler velocimetry. Subsequently, I hypothesize that ‘veno-cardiac uncoupling’ – a concept analogous to VAC – is a symptom of poor cardiac performance [Eh]. Lastly, I postulate that abnormal venous Doppler velocimetry indicates ‘veno-cardiac un-coupling’; that is, the aberrant transmission of mechanical power from the venous vasculature to the heart and arterial tree.
Cardiac Performance: Eh
In an imperative read, Parkin and Learning describe essential tenets of cardiovascular physiology for the intensive care unit . The principles they espouse build upon those initially posed by Guyton [2, 3]. One such premise is cardiac performance [Eh] [4-6]. Essentially, Eh is the slope of the Frank-Starling curve and is described mathematically as the difference between the mean systemic filling pressure [Pmsf] and the right atrial pressure relative to the Pmsf. More concretely, when cardiac performance is excellent, the right atrial pressure falls away from the Pmsf; that is, the difference between them is great. A large difference between these two values raises the value of the numerator of the Eh equation, thus cardiac performance and the slope of the Frank-Starling curve are both considerable [see figure 1A]. By contrast, poor Eh is realized when the right atrial pressure encroaches upon the Pmsf, that is, there is a small difference between them [see figure 1B].Venous Doppler & Eh
I have previously described the physiology of great vein Doppler velocimetry. A simplified approach to the genesis of the great vein Doppler waveform is to consider it an ‘inverse’ trace of the central venous pressure [CVP or right atrial pressure]. More simply, as CVP falls during a single cardiac cycle, venous velocity rises and vice versa. Consequently, one sees a normal, biphasic systolic and diastolic inflow velocity in conjunction with the x and y descents of the CVP waveform.
It is tempting, therefore, to suppose that as the CVP approaches its upstream pressure [i.e. Pmsf] that venous velocity profiles in distal venous beds become ‘atrialized.’ For example, the portal or intra-renal veins – which typically harbour gentle, undulating velocity patterns – adopt pulsatile velocity profiles that reflect the contour of the CVP. From figures 1A and B, one sees that as Eh worsens, the CVP nears the Pmsf. More clinically, the patient in figure 1A possess a normal intra-renal venous velocity pattern while the patient in 1B exhibits a pulsatile, discontinuous intra-renal venous velocity pattern even though their values of Pmsf are identical!
Mechanical Power and Veno-Cardiac Coupling
Could falling Eh be the physiological explanation for the pulsatile venous velocity patterns seen in heart failure patients [7, 8] and post-cardiac surgery patients [9-12], or are there more universal principles at play?
If we consider the venous return curve with a perfectly performing heart [i.e. Eh = 1.0, or a vertical line], then the area under this [volume-pressure] curve represents the total energy [in Joules] of the system [figure 2]. Recall that work over time is power [in Watts] such that if stroke volume becomes cardiac output [i.e. volume over time], then the area under the curve is total power. Thus, an increase in Pmsa increases the total power ‘available’ to the system. From the Guytonian perspective, the heart can only ‘impede’ venous return, should the heart not keep right atrial pressure near maximal venous return – typically atmospheric pressure [3, 13].Accordingly, an imperfectly performing heart has its slope shifted down and rightwards [figure 3A]. The area under the cardiac function curve also represents the power performed by the heart to move flow forward. There is an additional power transferred from the venous capacitance beds towards the heart; in effect, this is the conversion of ‘potential work/power’ to ‘kinetic work/power’ from the elastic recoil of the venous vasculature. Thus, when Eh is poor, there is a large portion of cardiac power relative to kinetic venous return power [Figure 3A, blue relative to purple shade]; that is, ‘veno-cardiac uncoupling.’ High cardiac potential work/power [see part 1] relative to low kinetic venous return power may explain the reflected Doppler velocities seen in the great veins of patients with poor cardiac function and/or high Pmsf relative to cardiac function. Further, 'veno-cardiac uncoupling' suggests a large fraction of ‘potential venous return power’ [red shade] acting upon the veins, venules and organs. Could this be an arbiter of organ dysfunction – analogous to the mechanical power as a mediator of lung injury?
Interestingly, the physiology espoused by Parkin and Learning  has been used to study cardiac power relative to Pmsf as a predictor of volume responsiveness [4, 5]; cardiac power in their studies is different from that described in figure 3 and is defined as cardiac output multiplied by MAP. Nevertheless, cardiac power efficiency levels-off in-step with the plateau of the Frank-Starling curve .Venous Doppler: clinical implications
The clinical implications of the above are relatively simple. Reversal of great vein velocity patterns may represent elevated cardiac and potential venous return power relative to kinetic venous return power; what I term ‘veno-cardiac uncoupling’. It is plausible that imbalance between forward and reverse-focused cardiovascular power mediates organ injury.
Additionally, while hypervolemia favours excessive ‘potential venous return power,’ veno-cardiac coupling is also decided by Eh. This may explain why portal vein pulsatility was recently observed to appear or disappear without large vascular volume shifts [e.g. immediately after induction of anesthesia or upon transfer from the operating room to the ICU] . Further, inhaled vasodilators can abolish venous Doppler velocity pulsations by improving cardiac function  without any acute change in volume status.
One potential caveat to the above is that it assumes that venous return and cardiac function are independent. A recent study on intravenous fluids found that volume infusion – that is, increasing Pmsf and venous return – also improved Eh [as described in part 1] . Further, venous Doppler pulsations are modified by factors beyond atrial pressure reflections. For example, portal vein pulsatility is also mediated by arterial pressure reflections through the mesenteric artery [16, 17] as well as body habitus .
Accordingly, the results of all diagnostic tests – including Doppler ultrasound – must be interpreted and applied within a specific clinical context!
Dr. Kenny is the cofounder and Chief Medical Officer of Flosonics Medical; he is also the creator and author of a free hemodynamic curriculum at heart-lung.org
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