Cardiac output and central distribution of blood flow in the human fetus

Circulation. 2001 Mar 27;103(12):1662-8. doi: 10.1161/01.cir.103.12.1662.


Background: The objectives of this study were to establish reference ranges for left and right cardiac output and to investigate blood flow distribution through the foramen ovale, ductus arteriosus, and pulmonary bed in human fetuses.

Methods and results: A prospective study was performed in 222 normal fetuses from 13 to 41 weeks of gestation with high-resolution color Doppler ultrasound. Cardiac output and ductal flow were calculated by use of vessel diameter and the time-velocity integral. Pulmonary blood flow was expressed as the difference between right cardiac output and ductal flow. Foramen ovale flow was estimated as the difference between pulmonary flow and left cardiac output. Gestational age-specific reference ranges are given for left, right, and biventricular output and volume of ductal blood flow, showing an exponential increase with gestational age. Median ratio of right to left cardiac output was 1.42 and was not associated with gestational age. Right cardiac output was 59% and left cardiac output was 41% of biventricular cardiac output. Median biventricular cardiac output was estimated to be 425 mL. min(-1). kg(-1) fetal weight. Ductal blood flow was 46%, estimated pulmonary flow was 11%, and estimated foramen ovale flow was 33% of biventricular output.

Conclusions: The study establishes reference ranges for fetal cardiac output and offers insights into the central blood flow distribution in human fetuses from 13 weeks to term. There is a clear right heart dominance. The estimated ratio of pulmonary blood flow to cardiac output is higher than in fetal lamb studies.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology
  • Cardiac Output / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ductus Arteriosus / physiology
  • Fetus / blood supply*
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Heart Rate, Fetal
  • Heart Septum / physiology
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Circulation / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Stroke Volume / physiology
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Color
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal