Disappearance of the shunt and lower cardiac index during exercise in small, unrepaired ventricular septal defects


Maagaard M, Eckerström F, Heiberg J, Asschenfeldt B, Ringgaard S, Hjortdal VE.

Cardiol Young. 2020 Apr;30(4):526-532. doi: 10.1017/S1047951120000505. Epub 2020 Mar 25.

PMID: 32209161

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Objectives: Clinical studies have revealed decreased exercise capacity in adults with small, unrepaired ventricular septal defects. Increasing shunt ratio and growing incompetence of the aortic and pulmonary valve with retrograde flow during exercise have been proposed as reasons for the previously found reduced exercise parameters. With MRI, haemodynamic shunt properties were measured during exercise in ventricular septal defects.

Methods: Patients with small, unrepaired ventricular septal defects and healthy peers were examined with MRI during exercise. Quantitative flow scans measured blood flow through ascending aorta and pulmonary artery. Scans were analysed post hoc where cardiac index, retrograde flows, and shunt ratio were determined.

Results: In total, 32 patients (26 ± 6 years) and 28 controls (27 ± 5 years) were included. The shunt ratio was 1.2 ± 0.2 at rest and decreased to 1.0 ± 0.2 at peak exercise, p < 0.01. Aortic cardiac index was lower at peak exercise in patients (7.5 ± 2 L/minute/m2) compared with controls (9.0±2L l/minute/m2), p<0.01. Aortic and pulmonary retrograde flow was larger in patients during exercise, p < 0.01. Positive correlation was demonstrated between aortic cardiac index at peak exercise and previously established exercise capacity for all patients (r = 0.5, p < 0.01).

Conclusions: Small, unrepaired ventricular septal defects revealed declining shunt ratio with increasing exercise and lower aortic cardiac index. Patients demonstrated larger retrograde flow both through the pulmonary artery and the aorta during exercise compared with controls. In conclusion, adults with unrepaired ventricular septal defects redistribute blood flow during exercise probably secondary to a more fixed pulmonary vascular resistance compared with age-matched peers.