Intestinal congestion and right ventricular dysfunction: a link with appetite loss, inflammation, and cachexia in chronic heart failure

Eur Heart J. 2016 Jun 1;37(21):1684-91. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehw008. Epub 2016 Feb 9.


Aims: Mechanisms leading to cachexia in heart failure (HF) are not fully understood. We evaluated signs of intestinal congestion in patients with chronic HF and their relationship with cachexia.

Methods and results: Of the 165 prospectively enrolled outpatients with left ventricular ejection fraction ≤40%, 29 (18%) were cachectic. Among echocardiographic parameters, the combination of right ventricular dysfunction and elevated right atrial pressure (RAP) provided the best discrimination between cachectic and non-cachectic patients [area under the curve 0.892, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.832-0.936]. Cachectic patients, compared with non-cachectic, had higher prevalence of postprandial fullness, appetite loss, and abdominal discomfort. Abdominal ultrasound showed a larger bowel wall thickness (BWT) in the entire colon and terminal ileum in cachectic than in non-cachectic patients. Bowel wall thickness correlated positively with gastrointestinal symptoms, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, RAP, and truncal fat-free mass, the latter serving as a marker of the fluid content. Logistic regression analysis showed that BWT was associated with cachexia, even after adjusting for cardiac function, inflammation, and stages of HF (odds ratio 1.4, 95% CI: 1.0-1.8; P-value = 0.03). Among the cardiac parameters, only RAP remained significantly associated with cachexia after multivariable adjustment.

Conclusion: Cardiac cachexia was associated with intestinal congestion irrespective of HF stage and cardiac function. Gastrointestinal discomfort, appetite loss, and pro-inflammatory activation provide probable mechanisms, by which intestinal congestion may trigger cardiac cachexia. However, our results are preliminary and larger studies are needed to clarify the intrinsic nature of this relationship.

Keywords: Cachexia; Heart failure; Intestinal congestion; Right ventricular function.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cachexia / etiology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Colitis / pathology
  • Colon / pathology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / complications*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / complications*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / pathology
  • Heart Failure / complications*
  • Humans
  • Ileitis / pathology
  • Ileum / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Right / complications*
  • Ventricular Pressure / physiology