Heart-lung interactions in acute respiratory distress syndrome: pathophysiology, detection and management strategies

Fernando Suarez Sipmann, Arnoldo Santos, Gerardo Tusman


Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is the most severe form of acute respiratory failure characterized by diffuse alveolar and endothelial damage. The severe pathophysiological changes in lung parenchyma and pulmonary circulation together with the effects of positive pressure ventilation profoundly affect heart lung interactions in ARDS. The term pulmonary vascular dysfunction (PVD) refers to the specific involvement of the vascular compartment in ARDS and is expressed clinically by an increase in pulmonary arterial (PA) pressure and pulmonary vascular resistance both affecting right ventricular (RV) afterload. When severe, PVD can lead to RV failure which is associated to an increased mortality. The effect of PVD on RV function is not only a consequence of increased pulmonary vascular resistance as afterload is a much more complex phenomenon that includes all factors that oppose efficient ventricular ejection. Impaired pulmonary vascular mechanics including increased arterial elastance and augmented wave-reflection phenomena are commonly seen in ARDS and can additionally affect RV afterload. The use of selective pulmonary vasodilators and lung protective mechanical ventilation strategies are therapeutic interventions that can ameliorate PVD. Prone positioning and the open lung approach (OLA) are especially attractive strategies to improve PVD due to their effects on increasing functional lung volume. In this review we will describe some pathophysiological aspects of heart-lung interactions during the ventilatory support of ARDS, its clinical assessment and discuss therapeutic interventions to prevent the occurrence and progression of PVD and RV failure.