Venous Congestion from different Clinical Standpoints. #FOAMed, #FOAMcc, #FOAMus


So last week sometime we had an interesting twitter exchange which made me realize it is important to explain how some of us are using venous POCUS in different clinical scenarios, which is key, because the development of monosynaptic clinical reflexes with POCUS findings is a rabbit hole we should try not to go down. Instead, POCUS should be about asking the right question and taking that answer as a piece of the pathophysiologic puzzle facing us, which may mean intervening sometimes, and sometimes not, for the same given finding, but with different surroundings.

Here is the twitter exchange.

Thanks to those involved in that discussion – it is how we grow!

And here are some thoughts:

For those not up to speed on venous congestion POCUS I put up the chapter that Korbin Haycock, Rory Spiegel and I worked on in this earlier post.

Love to hear your thoughts and experiences!





Another interesting question from @JCHCheung! #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

So here’s another interesting question as a follow up to the previous discussions:

Most people would probably agree that florid congestive signs on POCUS means the RV is unable to pass any more extra volume to the left heart; whilst the absence of those signs mean that the patient may be able to cope with some additional volume without immediately engorging the vital organs.

And my question is: what about those in between? i.e. the patients who start to develop some mild congestive features on POCUS.

For those who are on the verge of congestion, diuresis would push the RV to the left (i.e. steep part) of Starling curve resulting in significant CO drop; conversely, extra volume pushes the RV to the right (i.e. flat part) leading to congestion or even D-shape LV, directly hindering CO as well. This margin becomes even smaller in patients whose RV starts to fail (i.e. entire Starling curve shifted downwards)

Great, great question. The crux of this, I think, is deciding which is the greater issue, congestion or poor perfusion. Obviously they are intertwined, so the decision will be on a case by case basis. Jonathan alludes here to a narrow “balance point” between congestion and preload dependancy. My feeling – and we’ll see if we can get some consensus – is that this indeed narrow in patients with marked pulmonary hypertension. When patients have pure pump failure congestion, my clinical experience is that you can decongest plenty without drop in systemic CO, in fact it often improves, likely related to ventricular interdependance. So let’s go on…

I’ll illustrate my point with the following scenario:

for previously healthy middle aged patients intubated and admitted to the ICU for ARDS from severe pneumonia, they quite often develop some acute cor pulmonale after mechanically ventilated for several days even if the PEEP/driving pressure isn’t exceptionally high; and they usually have resp failure and shock to start with.

Given that they don’t have pre-existing heart disease, the only signs suggesting the emergence of cor pulmonale could be subtle, without structural changes like dilated RV (RVEDD at most at upper normal range) nor abnormal septal movements. You may see TAPSE dropping to marginal level and portal vein PW signal may become a bit more pulsatile. IVC looks full and RVSP usually rises but not skyrocket. The MV inflow pattern & E/E’ suggest rather normal LA filling pressure, not surprising from a previously healthy heart.

In this case, it isn’t the LV diastolic dysfunction that overly afterloads the RV; and it isn’t the RV dilation that impairs the (D-shape) LV from ventricular interdependence. Therefore I’d consider the right heart circulation & left heart circulation running purely in series, whereby limiting the RV preload could reduce the LV CO.

Now, if this patient goes into shock, would you consider fluid challenge or diuretics? Everyone probably would also get other therapies on board, e.g pressor, inotrope, source control etc. But when the patient’s BP is 80/40mmHg, I am more prone to giving some fluid as I believe that reducing preload in a septic patient can precipitate arrest; and that RV only directly impairs LV CO once the IVS starts to shift, which should take more time and thereby easier to monitor.

Interesting case that happens commonly – if you do POCUS and look for it rather than blind-ish management. Here, you have congestion, likely due to pulmonary disease, fluids, on a normal-ish RV (which also means it is unable to mount a huge PAP).

So personally – and will full disclosure that this is not evidence-based (as if there was any evidence in our resuscitative practices!), I would consider this a relative contraindication to fluids, given the non-volume-tolerant state (ALI/pneumonia/ARDS and portal pulsatility) of the patient. With pulsatility and signs of organ dysfunction I would be diuresing or pulling fluid off. We’ll see if we can get Rory to comment, as he has been doing a fair bit of this.

So in this patient it would be either no fluids, or diurese.

I don’t think one should have a general conception that reducing preload in a septic patient category is an issue. That may be so if you do not have the capability to look, and hence feel you should behave more cautiously. A septic patient with a tiny IVC may indeed be tipped over into low CO by removing fluids, but another with a full tank post resuscitation may benefit. So with the ability to assess hemodynamics, individualized approaches trump general ides and protocols. Much more to come on this in the next weeks as we break down a lot of interesting concepts in regards to vascular tone assessment and cardiac efficiency. 

I fully appreciate how ambiguous this situation is and that in reality the only way to find out the treatment that works is often by trial and error. Serial assessment by POCUS is definitely needed and one may even put the entire fluid thing aside and focus on other treatments. But just want to know your take and the reasons behind.

Thanks again for all your work and these thought provoking posts; and my apologies for the supposedly quick question ending up being not so quick. It took me some effort to clearly delineate my question in mind.

Anyone interested in these topics should keep an eye out for the H&R2019 Tracks. A bunch of us are getting together before and during the conference and will be recording discussions on all these little cases and angles around hemodynamics and other fun resuscitationist topics.






POCUS & Venous Congestion: a #FOAMed Collaborative Chapter.


So given the importance of these topics, the number of questions and discussions we’ve had on the twitterverse, and most importantly in the spirit of #FOAMed, here is the chapter from the POCUS book which was co-authored by Rory Spiegel (@EMnerd), Korbin Haycock (@korbinhaycockmd) and myself.

Venous Congestion Chapter

We’re also in there introducing our VEXUS score, and if anyone wants to use/validate it clinically, please do!

Love to hear anyone’s thoughts!


PS we’ll all be at H&R2019 and running workshops on venous congestion:

The rest of the chapters are here on Amazon and the e-version here on iTunes!





My friend, the IVC. #FOAMed, #FOAMer, #FOAMus, #FOAMcc

So I keep hearing and seeing people bash the IVC. Casually dismissing it with a shrug. “It’s not really good for volume responsiveness, you know…”

All that deserves is an eyeball-rolling emoji. That is, unfortunately, the reaction of docs who are trying to devise a threshold or recipe-based approach to POCUS management (which will be just as bad as any recipe-based medicine) as opposed to physiological understanding of what is going on with the patient.

There’s so much good information packed in scanning the IVC (properly, in both axes – for more, see a bunch of my previous posts), and frankly, volume responsiveness is the least of my concerns, that it is a shame to toss out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

So I talked about this at Stowe EM – an awesome conference run by my friend Peter Weimersheimer (@VTEMsono), which I highly recommend to anyone for next year, great talks, people and spot:

Here are my slides:

IVC Stowe

And the audio:


Love to hear your thoughts!

Oh yes, and anyone looking to explore physiological, evidence-based, cutting- and bleeding-edge approaches to resus, don’t miss H&R2019 this May in Montreal!




The Andromeda-SHOCK study. A physiological breakdown with Rory Spiegel (@EMnerd). #FOAMed, #FOAMcc, #FOAMer

So recently published was the Andromeda SHOCK trial (jama_hernndez_2019_oi_190001) in JAMA this month.

Definitely interesting stuff, and have to commend the authors on a complex resuscitation strategy that had some real-world flexibility built in in terms of later generalizability and applicability for real-world cases. However there are some fundamentals I have concerns about. Let’s see what Rory thinks:

Yeah. I think the bottom line of opening resuscitationists’ eyes to NOT apply monosynaptic reflexes of giving fluids to elevated lactate is good. In that sense, definitely a step forward.

However, the insistence on maximizing CO under the illusion of optimizing perfusion remains problematic and leads to a congested state unless only a small or perhaps moderate amount of fluid is required to achieve non-volume responsiveness. I think it’s important to realize that the most rapid correction of hemodynamics is a surrogate marker and has not been definitively associated with survival across the board (eg the FEAST study and others), and it’s only proven clinical impact may be on health care workers’ level of anxiety.

Tune in soon for some other smart docs’ take on this!






oh yes and don’t forget The Hospitalist & The Resuscitationist 2019:


Is POCUS the new PAC??? A Chat with Jon-Emile Kenny (@heart_lung) #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

So here is what Jon tweeted a couple weeks ago:

Yikes! Does that spell doom for POCUS???

So clearly we had to get to the bottom of this statement…So a google hangout was in order.


Part 1 my intro:

and Part 2 our discussion:


So the bottom line is that we agree that there is a risk that POCUS may partly head the way of the PAC, or at least be challenged in a similar fashion. Hopefully the wiser physicians will see the inherently flawed logic that would push the field in that direction. Alternately, we could all get our minds and efforts together and try to do a triangulation of data to really pinpoint hemodynamics.

Love to hear comments!

For more of Jon’s physiology awesomeness, visit






PS for cutting-edge and bleeding edge discussions, including Jon-Emile and a lot more, don’t miss H&R2019 this may in Montreal…

A Tale of Salt and Water: Venous Congestion and CHF (Part 1) #FOAMed, #FOAMim, #FOAMer

So, venous congestion is the predominant physiopathology in CHF, with a number of ensuing problems including lung edema, effusions, hepatic congestion and cirrhosis, renal failure and even gut edema and failure, though less traditionally focused on.

Venous congestion is essentially a problem of salt and water, retained by a well-intentioned but (eventually) maladaptive neuro-endocrine process. The bottom line being: too much salt and water…

However, the vast emphasis in pharmacologic CHF management, if you look at guidelines and publications, is predominantly on various neuro-endocrine modulation strategies, and though these certainly have a role, it is logical that optimizing volume status must play a central role. So why is it not a recurrent theme of discussion?  Well probably because our means to traditionally assess this is limited. What are the tools used by physicians worldwide to assess congestion?  Weight, peripheral edema, JVD, crackles, CXR are pretty much it. Now even under the best of circumstances, these are hardly precise tools, and of intermediate specificity. But it is what is available, and taught, and in most cases, does the job fairly well.  However, judging by the problem of recurrent admissions for CHF exacerbations, likely not good enough.

The Canadian HF Guidelines – as thorough as they are – are interesting in that the only time diuretics are addressed are in exacerbation, and a note to use the lowest dose possible to maintain stability… But little else in terms of guiding this assessment of stability or the dosage management. The usual “thorough history and physical” stuff, of course.

So what else could we do?  Now my interest in POCUS is no secret, and it seems like the ideal tool for assessing both fluid collections and hemodynamics. So what do we know?

Lungs – at this point it’s beyond much debate, POCUS-enhanced physical examination is vastly superior to radiographs and traditional physical examination. Small effusions are easily seen as well as congestion in the form of B lines. In the case of sub-acute to chronic congestion, as we are not overly concerned with central lesions (not seen with ultrasound), the CXR is of no further benefit.

Peripheral edema – I’ll call this one a tie. Not that much benefit in measuring subcutaneous edema with a probe, except for exact reproducibility, at the cost of time.  😉

The Heart – another no-brainer. Ultrasound wins. With appropriate training, experience, and more important than either, the ability to recognize one’s own limitations.

Venous congestion – Now we’re getting to the interesting stuff. So even if for some, it may be the first time hearing about the clinical use of venous congestion markers in CHF, it isn’t new science. In the 90’s, several studies were published correlating portal vein pulsatility, congestion index, as well as hepatic vein doppler pattern with CVP, RV dysfunction, finding close correlation.  In 2016, Iida et al published a great article on renal venous doppler and CHF which I highly recommend reading, and more recently, Andre Denault and William Beaubien-Souligny (@WBeaubien) have been doing tremendous work with portal vein pulsatility and post-op cardiac patients’ organ dysfunction. So the science correlating excessive venous congestion to organ dysfunction is there and is clear.

Why have we not yet widely studied this?

The answer is fairly simple. Prior to the growth of POCUS, there was no single clinician group holding the necessary set of clinical and echographic skills to make this clinical routine. Cardiologists are not all echo-capable, and even those that are would have had little or no experience dopplering abdominal organs and vessels. Radiologists – most of the literature coming from their field – are not pharmaco-clinicians and do not follow patients. Family physicians and internists, likely the bulk of the physicians looking after these patients, largely had not had access to or echo skills. Until now.

So a quick review:  right-sided failure causes elevated RAP, so everything upstream gets congested. The first echo signal of this is the plethoric IVC (in both axes of course!!!), and an abnormal hepatic vein doppler (which is pretty much like a CVP tracing, just non-invasively) but is that the max? Nope. What is worse is when that pressure transmits thru backwards from hepatic veins to portal vein, transforming a normally monophasic flow with minimal variation into a progressively more pulsatile flow, to the eventual point of being intermittent. And when the IVC pressure transmits across a congested kidney such that the same thing occurs in the renal veins.

Those findings have been well studied and correlate with poor outcomes in CHF.


So what could we do?

What we are doing now is systematically assessing CHF patients in terms of their venous side. What we see so far is that some have full, plethoric IVCs, maybe B lines and effusions, maybe some peripheral edema, but may or may not have those worse markers of abnormal doppler flows, and those who don’t generally don’t have significant organ dysfunction such as renal failure (I discussed this a few years ago in my pre-doppler era in terms of re-thinking common approaches).

So when we find significant portal pulsatility, we diurese aggressively, creatinine notwithstanding. We almost always get an improvement in biochemical markers of renal function within 48-72 hours, with the only really tricky patients being those with severe pulmonary hypertension. More on that in another post.

Goonewardena et al had a really great observational study that showed that if CHF patients were discharged with a non-plethoric IVC and significant respiratory variation, they were less likely to be re-admitted. The figure below on the right shows the numbers:

So there is reasonable evidence to suggest a POCUS-guided approach, which we’ll go over in the next post, which should include our revised Advanced CHF Clinic guidelines.

I can already hear the thoughts… “is there any evidence for this?” But those asking that reflexively should first ask themselves “what is the evidence behind the way I assess congestion and manage CHF?”







Portal vein pulsatility and CHF

Iida et al. article

Beaubien-Souligny and Andre Denault open access article