Aortocaval Compression Syndrome: Time to Revisit Certain Dogmas

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More than 70 years ago, the phenomenon of “postural shock” in the supine position was described in healthy women in late pregnancy. Since then, avoidance of the supine position has become a key component of clinical practice. Indeed, performing pelvic tilt in mothers at term to avoid aortocaval compression is a universally adopted measure, particularly during cesarean delivery. The studies on which this practice is based are largely nonrandomized, utilized a mix of anesthetic techniques, and were conducted decades ago in the setting of avoidance of vasopressors. Recent evidence is beginning to refine our understanding of the physiologic consequences of aortocaval compression in the context of contemporary clinical practice. For example, magnetic resonance imaging of women at term in the supine and tilted positions has challenged the dogma that 15° of left tilt is sufficient to relieve inferior vena cava compression. A clinical investigation of healthy term women undergoing elective cesarean delivery with spinal anesthesia found no difference in neonatal acid-base status between women randomized to be either tilted to the left by 15° or to be in the supine position, if maternal systolic blood pressure is maintained at baseline with a crystalloid coload and prophylactic phenylephrine infusion. This review presents a fresh look at the decades of evidence surrounding this topic and proposes a reevaluation and appraisal of current guidelines regarding entrenched practices.

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