Resuscitation of the pregnant patient: What is the effect of patient positioning on inferior vena cava diameter?

Resuscitation. 2013 Mar;84(3):304-8. doi: 10.1016/j.resuscitation.2012.11.011. Epub 2012 Nov 21.


Study objective: Patients in the third trimester of pregnancy presenting to the emergency department (ED) with hypotension are routinely placed in the left lateral tilt (LLT) position to relieve inferior vena cava (IVC) compression from the gravid uterus thereby increasing venous return. However, the relationship between patient position and proximal intrahepatic IVC filling has never assessed directly. This study set out to determine the effect of LLT position on intrahepatic IVC diameter in third trimester patients under real-time visualization with ultrasound.

Methods: This prospective observational study on the labor and delivery floor of a large urban academic teaching hospital enrolled patients between 30 and 42 weeks estimated gestational age from August 2011 to March 2012. Patients were placed in three different positions: supine, LLT, and right lateral tilt (RLT). After the patient was in each position for at least 3 min, IVC ultrasound using the intercostal window was performed by one of three study sonologists. Maternal and fetal hemodynamics were also monitored and recorded in each position.

Results: A total of 26 patients were enrolled with one excluded from data analysis due to inability to obtain IVC measurements. The median IVC maximum diameter was 1.26 cm (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.13-1.55) in LLT compared to 1.13 cm (95% CI 0.89-1.41) in supine, p=0.01. When comparing each individual patient's LLT to supine measurement, LLT lead to an increase in maximum IVC diameter in 76% (19/25) of patients with the average LLT measurement 29% (95% confidence interval 10-48%) larger. Six patients had the largest maximum IVC measurement in the supine position. No patients experienced any hemodynamic instability or distress during the study.

Conclusion: IVC ultrasound is feasible in late pregnancy and demonstrates an increase in diameter with LLT positioning. However, a quarter of patients had a decrease in IVC diameter with tilting and, instead, had the largest IVC diameter in the supine position suggesting that uterine compression of the IVC may not occur universally. IVC assessment at the bedside may be a useful adjunct in determining optimal positioning for resuscitation of third trimester patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Blood Pressure
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Hypotension / diagnostic imaging
  • Hypotension / physiopathology
  • Hypotension / therapy*
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods*
  • Patient Positioning / methods*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular / diagnostic imaging
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular / therapy*
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Prospective Studies
  • Resuscitation / methods*
  • Supine Position*
  • Ultrasonography
  • Vena Cava, Inferior / diagnostic imaging*
  • Young Adult