Background: In the Fontan circulation, pulmonary and systemic vascular resistances are in series. The implications of this unique arrangement on infradiaphragmatic venous physiology are poorly understood.
Methods and results: We studied the effects of respiration and gravity on infradiaphragmatic venous flows in 20 normal healthy volunteers (control) and 48 Fontan patients (atriopulmonary connection [APC] n=15, total cavopulmonary connection [TCPC] n=30). Hepatic venous (HV), subhepatic inferior vena caval (IVC), and portal venous (PV) flow rates were measured with Doppler ultrasonography during inspiration and expiration in both the supine and upright positions. The inspiratory-to-expiratory flow rate ratio was calculated to reflect the effect of respiration, and the supine-to-upright flow rate ratio was calculated to assess the effect of gravity. HV flow depended heavily on inspiration in TCPC compared with both control and APC subjects (inspiratory-to-expiratory flow rate ratio 3.4, 1.7, and 1.6, respectively; P:<0.0001). Normal PV flow was higher in expiration, but this effect was lost in TCPC and APC patients (inspiratory-to-expiratory flow rate ratio 0.8, 1.0, and 1.1, respectively; P:=0.01). The respiratory influence on IVC flow was the same in all groups. Gravity decreased HV flow more in APC than in TCPC patients (supine-to-upright flow rate ratio 3.2 versus 2.1, respectively; P:<0.04) but reduced PV flow equally in all groups.
Conclusions: Gravity and respiration have important influences on infradiaphragmatic venous return in Fontan patients. Although gravity exerts a significant detrimental effect on lower body venous return, which is more marked in APC than in TCPC patients, the beneficial effects of respiration in TCPC patients are mediated primarily by an increase in HV flow. These effects may have important short- and long-term implications for the hemodynamics of the Fontan circulation.