High Cardiac Output Caused by Reduced Total Peripheral Resistance

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The left side of Figure 20-6 identifies conditions that commonly cause cardiac outputs higher than normal. One of the distinguishing features of these conditions is that they all result from chronically reduced total peripheral resistance. None of them result from excessive excitation of the heart itself, which we will explain subsequently. For the present, let us look at some of the conditions that can decrease the peripheral resistance and at the same time increase the cardiac output to above normal.

1. Beriberi. This disease is caused by insufficient quantity of the vitamin thiamine (vitamin B1) in the diet. Lack of this vitamin causes diminished ability of the tissues to use some cellular nutrients, and the local tissue blood flow mechanisms in turn cause marked compensatory peripheral vasodilation. Sometimes the total peripheral resistance decreases to as little as one-half normal. Consequently, the long-term levels of venous return and cardiac output also often increase to twice normal.

2. Arteriovenous fistula (shunt). Earlier, we pointed out that whenever a fistula (also called an AV shunt) occurs between a major artery and a major vein, tremendous amounts of blood flow directly from the artery into the vein. This, too, greatly decreases the total peripheral resistance and, likewise, increases the venous return and cardiac output.

3. Hyperthyroidism. In hyperthyroidism, the metabolism of most tissues of the body becomes greatly increased. Oxygen usage increases, and vasodilator products are released from the tissues. Therefore, the total peripheral resistance decreases markedly because of the local tissue blood flow control reactions throughout the body; consequently, the venous return and cardiac output often increase to 40 to 80 per cent above normal.

4. Anemia. In anemia, two peripheral effects greatly decrease the total peripheral resistance. One of these is reduced viscosity of the blood, resulting from the decreased concentration of red blood

Peripheral Resistance Causing Conditions
Figure 20-6

Cardiac output in different pathological conditions. The numbers in parentheses indicate number of patients studied in each condition. (Redrawn from Guyton AC, Jones CE, Coleman TB: Circulatory Physiology: Cardiac Output and Its Regulation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co, 1973.)

cells. The other is diminished delivery of oxygen to the tissues, which causes local vasodilation. As a consequence, the cardiac output increases greatly. Any other factor that decreases the total peripheral resistance chronically also increases the cardiac output.

Low Cardiac Output

Figure 20-6 shows at the far right several conditions that cause abnormally low cardiac output. These conditions fall into two categories: (1) those abnormalities that cause the pumping effectiveness of the heart to fall too low and (2) those that cause venous return to fall too low.

Decreased Cardiac Output Caused by Cardiac Factors. Whenever the heart becomes severely damaged, regardless of the cause, its limited level of pumping may fall below that needed for adequate blood flow to the tissues. Some examples of this include (1) severe coronary blood vessel blockage and consequent myocardial infarction, (2) severe valvular heart disease, (3) myocarditis, (4) cardiac tamponade, and (5) cardiac metabolic derangements. The effects of several of these are shown on the right in Figure 20-6, demonstrating the low cardiac outputs that result.

When the cardiac output falls so low that the tissues throughout the body begin to suffer nutritional deficiency, the condition is called cardiac shock. This is discussed fully in Chapter 22 in relation to cardiac failure.

Decrease in Cardiac Output Caused by Non-cardiac Peripheral Factors—Decreased Venous Return. Anything that interferes with venous return also can lead to decreased cardiac output. Some of these factors are the following:

1. Decreased blood volume. By far, the most common non-cardiac peripheral factor that leads to decreased cardiac output is decreased blood volume, resulting most often from hemorrhage.

It is clear why this condition decreases the cardiac output: Loss of blood decreases the filling of the vascular system to such a low level that there is not enough blood in the peripheral vessels to create peripheral vascular pressures high enough to push the blood back to the heart.

2. Acute venous dilation. On some occasions, the peripheral veins become acutely vasodilated. This results most often when the sympathetic nervous system suddenly becomes inactive. For instance, fainting often results from sudden loss of sympathetic nervous system activity, which causes the peripheral capacitative vessels, especially the veins, to dilate markedly. This decreases the filling pressure of the vascular system because the blood volume can no longer create adequate pressure in the now flaccid peripheral blood vessels. As a result, the blood "pools" in the vessels and does not return to the heart.

3. Obstruction of the large veins. On rare occasions, the large veins leading into the heart become obstructed, so that the blood in the peripheral vessels cannot flow back into the heart. Consequently, the cardiac output falls markedly.

4. Decreased tissue mass, especially decreased skeletal muscle mass. With normal aging or with prolonged periods of physical inactivity, there is usually a reduction in the size of the skeletal muscles. This, in turn, decreases the total oxygen consumption and blood flow needs of the muscles, resulting in decreases in skeletal muscle blood flow and cardiac output.

Regardless of the cause of low cardiac output, whether it be a peripheral factor or a cardiac factor, if ever the cardiac output falls below that level required for adequate nutrition of the tissues, the person is said to suffer circulatory shock. This condition can be lethal within a few minutes to a few hours. Circulatory shock is such an important clinical problem that it is discussed in detail in Chapter 24.

A More Quantitative Analysis of Cardiac Output Regulation

Our discussion of cardiac output regulation thus far is adequate for understanding the factors that control cardiac output in most simple conditions. However, to understand cardiac output regulation in especially stressful situations, such as the extremes of exercise, cardiac failure, and circulatory shock, a more complex quantitative analysis is presented in the following sections.

To perform the more quantitative analysis, it is necessary to distinguish separately the two primary factors concerned with cardiac output regulation: (1) the pumping ability of the heart, as represented by cardiac output curves, and (2) the peripheral factors that affect flow of blood from the veins into the heart, as represented by venous return curves. Then one can put these curves together in a quantitative way to show how they interact with each other to determine cardiac output, venous return, and right atrial pressure at the same time.

Cardiac Output Curves Used in the Quantitative Analysis

Some of the cardiac output curves used to depict quantitative heart pumping effectiveness have already been shown in Figure 20-4. However, an additional set of curves is required to show the effect on cardiac output caused by changing external pressures on the outside of the heart, as explained in the next section.

Effect of External Pressure Outside the Heart on Cardiac Output Curves. Figure 20-7 shows the effect of changes in external cardiac pressure on the cardiac output curve. The normal external pressure is equal to the normal intrapleural pressure (the pressure in the chest cavity), which is -4 mm Hg. Note in the figure that a rise in intrapleural pressure, to -2 mm Hg, shifts the entire cardiac output curve to the right by the same amount. This shift occurs because to fill the cardiac chambers with blood requires an extra 2 mm Hg right atrial pressure to overcome the increased pressure on the outside of the heart. Likewise, an increase in intrapleural pressure to +2 mm Hg requires a 6 mm Hg increase in right atrial pressure from the normal -4 mm Hg, which shifts the entire cardiac output curve 6 mm Hg to the right.

Some of the factors that can alter the intrapleural pressure and thereby shift the cardiac output curve are the following:

1. Cyclical changes of intrapleural pressure during respiration, which are about ±2 mm Hg during normal breathing but can be as much as ±50 mm Hg during strenuous breathing.

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