Background: A warm-water bath (WWB) or sauna bath (SB) has generally been considered inappropriate for patients with severe congestive heart failure (CHF). However, a comprehensive investigation of the hemodynamic effects of thermal vasodilation in CHF has not been previously undertaken.
Methods and results: To investigate the acute hemodynamic effects of thermal vasodilation in CHF, we studied 34 patients with chronic CHF (mean age, 58 +/- 14 years). Clinical stages were New York Heart Association functional class II in 2, III in 19, and IV in 13 patients. Mean ejection fraction was 25 +/- 9%. After a Swan-Ganz catheter was inserted via the right jugular vein, the patient had a WWB for 10 minutes at 41 degrees C or an SB for 15 minutes at 60 degrees C. Blood pressure, ECG, echo-Doppler, expiration gas, and intracardiac pressures were recorded before, during, and 30 minutes after each bath. Oxygen consumption increased mildly, pulmonary arterial blood temperature increased by 1.2 degrees C, and heart rate increased by 20 to 25 beats per minute on average at the end of WWB or SB. Systolic blood pressure showed no significant change. Diastolic blood pressure decreased significantly during SB (P < .01). Cardiac and stroke indexes increased and systemic vascular resistances decreased significantly during and after WWB and SB (P < .01). Mean pulmonary artery, mean pulmonary capillary wedge, and mean right atrial pressures increased significantly during WWB (P < .05) but decreased significantly during SB (P < .05). These pressures decreased significantly from the control level after each bath (P < .01). Mitral regurgitation associated with CHF decreased during and 30 minutes after each bath. Cardiac dimensions decreased and left ventricular ejection fraction increased significantly after WWB and SB. In an additional study, plasma norepinephrine increased significantly during SB in healthy control subjects and in patients with CHF and returned to control levels by 30 minutes after SB.
Conclusions: Hemodynamics improve after WWB or SB in patients with chronic CHF. This is attributable to the reduction in cardiac preload and afterload. Thus, thermal vasodilation can be applied with little risk if appropriately performed and may provide a new nonpharmacological therapy for CHF.