Introduction: It is generally known that positive pressure ventilation is associated with impaired venous return and decreased right ventricular output, in particular in patients with a low right atrial pressure and relative hypovolaemia. Altered lung mechanics have been suggested to impair right ventricular output in COPD, but this relation has never been firmly established in spontaneously breathing patients at rest or during exercise, nor has it been determined whether these cardiopulmonary interactions are influenced by right atrial pressure.
Methods: Twenty-one patients with COPD underwent simultaneous measurements of intrathoracic, right atrial and pulmonary artery pressures during spontaneous breathing at rest and during exercise. Intrathoracic pressure and right atrial pressure were used to calculate right atrial filling pressure. Dynamic changes in pulmonary artery pulse pressure during expiration were examined to evaluate changes in right ventricular output.
Results: Pulmonary artery pulse pressure decreased up to 40% during expiration reflecting a decrease in stroke volume. The decline in pulse pressure was most prominent in patients with a low right atrial filling pressure. During exercise, a similar decline in pulmonary artery pressure was observed. This could be explained by similar increases in intrathoracic pressure and right atrial pressure during exercise, resulting in an unchanged right atrial filling pressure.
Conclusions: We show that in spontaneously breathing COPD patients the pulmonary artery pulse pressure decreases during expiration and that the magnitude of the decline in pulmonary artery pulse pressure is not just a function of intrathoracic pressure, but also depends on right atrial pressure.