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Does the pulmonary artery catheter still have a role in the perioperative period?

Department of Anaesthesia, St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


The pulmonary artery catheter (PAC) was introduced into clinical practice in the early 1970s. Its use quickly expanded beyond patients with acute myocardial infarction to critically ill patients in the intensive care unit. Increasingly, it was used in the perioperative period in patients having major cardiac and noncardiac surgery. Publication of large observational studies suggested that patients with a PAC were more likely to suffer major morbidity or mortality, but this was difficult to assess because patients who had a PAC inserted were often sicker, with more severe pathology, and were therefore more likely to die. The PAC is a monitoring device and information alone is unlikely to influence outcome unless it is linked to a proven therapy. Several thousand articles on the use of the PAC now exist, but in general, the quality of this literature is poor. Much of the data are not randomised, have small sample sizes and include patients with greatly differing pathological states. It is unclear which, if any, of the PAC-guided therapies are actually beneficial for patients. Despite these flaws, there is no clear evidence of benefit, nor harm, in cardiac, intensive care or perioperative patients. Selected indications for the PAC may remain, such as complex cardiac surgery or solid organ transplantation. However, its routine use is difficult to justify and increasingly, most of the haemodynamic data available from the PAC can be obtained less invasively with echocardiography.

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