Determination of Vascular Waterfall Phenomenon by Bedside Measurement of Mean Systemic Filling Pressure and Critical Closing Pressure in the Intensive Care Unit

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Mean systemic filling pressure (Pmsf) can be determined at the bedside by measuring central venous pressure (Pcv) and cardiac output (CO) during inspiratory hold maneuvers. Critical closing pressure (Pcc) can be determined using the same method measuring arterial pressure (Pa) and CO. If Pcc > Pmsf, there is then a vascular waterfall. In this study, we assessed the existence of a waterfall and its implications for the calculation of vascular resistances by determining Pmsf and Pcc at the bedside.


In 10 mechanically ventilated postcardiac surgery patients, inspiratory hold maneuvers were performed, transiently increasing Pcv and decreasing Pa and CO to 4 different steady-state levels. For each patient, values of Pcv and CO were plotted in a venous return curve to determine Pmsf. Similarly, Pcc was determined with a ventricular output curve plotted for Pa and CO. Measurements were performed in each patient before and after volume expansion with 0.5 L colloid, and vascular resistances were calculated.


For every patient, the relationship between the 4 measurements of Pcv and CO and of Pa and CO was linear. Baseline Pmsf was 18.7 ± 4.0 mm Hg (mean ± SD) and differed significantly from Pcc 45.5 ± 11.1 mm Hg (P < 0.0001). The difference of Pcc and Pmsf was 26.8 ± 10.7 mm Hg, indicating the presence of a systemic vascular waterfall. Volume expansion increased Pmsf (26.3 ± 3.2 mm Hg), Pcc (51.5 ± 9.0 mm Hg), and CO (5.5 ± 1.8 to 6.8 ± 1.8 L · min−1). Arterial (upstream of Pcc) and venous (downstream of Pmsf) vascular resistance were 8.27 ± 4.45 and 2.75 ± 1.23 mm Hg · min · L−1; the sum of both (11.01 mm Hg · min · L−1) was significantly different from total systemic vascular resistance (16.56 ± 8.57 mm Hg · min · L−1; P = 0.005). Arterial resistance was related to total resistance.


Vascular pressure gradients in cardiac surgery patients suggest the presence of a vascular waterfall phenomenon, which is not affected by CO. Thus, measures of total systemic vascular resistance may become irrelevant in assessing systemic vasomotor tone.

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