Anaesthesia and right ventricular failure

Anaesth Intensive Care. 2009 May;37(3):370-85. doi: 10.1177/0310057X0903700314.


Acute right ventricular (RV) failure has until recently received relatively little attention in the cardiology, critical care or anaesthesia literature. However, it is frequently encountered in cardiac surgical cases and is a significant cause of mortality in patients with severe pulmonary hypertension who undergo non-cardiac surgery. RV dysfunction may be primarily due to impaired RV contractility, or volume or pressure overload. In these patients, an increased pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR) or a decreased aortic root pressure may lead to RV ischaemia, resulting in a rapid, downward haemodynamic spiral. The key aspects of 'RV protection' in patients who are at risk of perioperative decompensation are prevention, detection and treatment aimed at reversing the underlying pathophysiology. Minimising PVR and maintaining systemic blood pressure are of central importance in the prevention of RV decompensation, which is characterised by a rising central venous pressure and a falling cardiac output. Although there are no outcome data to support any therapeutic strategy for RV failure when PVR is elevated, the combination of inhaled iloprost or intravenous milrinone with oral sildenafil produces a synergistic reduction in PVR, while sparing systemic vascular resistance. Levosimendan is a promising new inotrope for the treatment of RV failure, although its role in comparison to older agents such as dobutamine, adrenaline and milrinone has yet to be determined. This is also the case for the use of vasopressin as an alternative pressor to noradrenaline. If all else has failed, mechanical support of the RV should be considered in selected cases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics / administration & dosage*
  • Anesthetics / adverse effects
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cardiac Output
  • Cardiotonic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cardiotonic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Heart Failure / etiology
  • Heart Failure / mortality
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology*
  • Heart Failure / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / complications
  • Intraoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Perioperative Care / methods*
  • Risk Factors


  • Anesthetics
  • Cardiotonic Agents