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Left ventricular outflow tract obstruction—be prepared!

Intensive Care Unit, Townsville Hospital and James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Department of Intensive Care, Nepean Hospital and Nepean Clinical School, University of Sydney, New South Wales


The current trend to treat hypotension in critically ill patients is to place a greater emphasis on inotropic support and less on fluid resuscitation in order to limit the potential harm from fluid overload. This combination may trigger left ventricular outflow tract obstruction (LVOTO) in susceptible patients. Although LVOTO is classically described in patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy it has been reported in other conditions including septic shock, apical ballooning syndrome, myocardial infarction, respiratory failure, and post valvular surgery. It is more common in the elderly, females, and in patients with hypertension, diabetes, and chronic vascular disease because of predisposing anatomical conditions such as left ventricular hypertrophy, small left ventricle size, sigmoid septum and alterations in the positions of the aortic and mitral valve annular planes. The onset of LVOTO is largely unpredictable due to a complex interplay between preload, afterload, heart rhythm and rate in susceptible patients. The consequences of missing this treatable condition may lead to life-threatening hypotension refractory to, or exacerbated by, a further increase in inotropic support. Dynamic LVOTO should be considered in any hypotensive intensive care patient. Echocardiography is perhaps the best tool to assess LVOTO and its underlying pathophysiology in the critically ill. Detection of LVOTO is a relatively simple task using a combination of two-dimensional, M-mode and spectral Doppler imaging by an operator alert to the possible diagnosis.

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