An easily missed cause of shock

A potentially reversible cause of haemodynamic shock in critically ill patients is left ventricular outflow tract obstruction (LVOTO). We are familiar with this phenomenon in conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), but LVOTO can occur in the absence of HCM and result in hypotension that may be refractory to catecholamines. In fact, vasoactive drugs are often the precipitant.

A case is reported of an intubated elderly man with pneumonia and COPD who upon starting dopamine and furosemide for hypotension and anuria developed severe haemodynamic deterioration1. Echo revealed a hyperkinetic left ventricle with mild concentric hypertrophy, septal wall thickness of 12 mm (normal range up to 10mm), and a reduced end-diastolic diameter. Systolic anterior motion (SAM) of the anterior mitral leaflet causing a significant left ventricular outflow tract obstruction (LVOTO), with a peak gradient of 100 mmHg, was detected. The patient improved with discontinuation of vasoactive drugs and fluid loading. A follow up cardiac MR showed a structurally normal LV.

The authors describe the factors that combine to produce this syndrome:

  • Anatomical substrate – Left ventricular hypertrophy due to hypertension, mitral valve repair, previous aortic valve replacement, abnormalities of the mitral subvalvular apparatus, sigmoid septum and a steep aortic root angle.

  • Precipitating factors – Drug therapies such as catecholamine infusion or diuretics, which respectively enhance the contractility of the basal segments and reduce the left ventricular cavity, emotional stress (like described in the apical ballooning syndrome), hypovolaemia, dehydration, sepsis, and myocardial infarction; hypovolaemia and mechanical ventilation further exacerbate underfilling of the LV and dynamic LVOTO.

In a review article on the topic, Dr Chockalingam and colleagues describe structural and functional factors in this finely crafted explanation2:

The asymmetrically hypertrophied septum, progressive narrowing of the LVOT during systole, and direction of the bloodstream cause drag forces and a Venturi effect on the anterior mitral leaflet, which results in SAM of the anterior mitral leaflet. This movement results in the anterior mitral leaflet contacting the septum for a period of systole, effectively obstructing the path of ventricular outflow. Failure of the anterior mitral leaflet to coapt with the posterior leaflet in systole results in MR. The degree and duration of mitral SAM determine the severity of the dynamic LVOTO gradients and MR.

Although classically described with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, SAM and LVOTO can independently result from various clinical settings such as LV hypertrophy (hypertension or sigmoid septum), reduced LV chamber size (dehydration, bleeding, or diuresis), mitral valve abnormalities (redundant, long anterior leaflet), and hypercontractility (stress, anxiety, or inotropic agents). Dynamic LVOTO may occur with acute coronary syndrome and often presents with shock and a new systolic murmur3. The presence of a new murmur in a shocked ACS patient should therefore prompt consideration of the following diagnoses:

  • Acute mitral valve dysfunction
  • Ventricular septal defect
  • Free wall rupture
  • Dynamic LVOTO

Treatment is aimed at alleviating the causes and should be individualised. Options include coronary revascularisation, volume therapy, beta blockade, removing afterload reduction (vasodilators and balloon pumps can exacerbate LVOTO), and alpha agonists such as phenylephrine.


In summary, dynamic LVOTO:

  • is a potentially reversible cause of haemodynamic shock in critically ill patients
  • should be considered in critically ill patients whose shock fails to improve or worsen with inotropic medication
  • should be considered in patients with ACS, shock, and a new systolic murmur
  • can result from combinations of LV hypertrophy, reduced LV chamber size (dehydration, bleeding, or diuresis), mitral valve abnormalities, and hypercontractility (stress, anxiety, or inotropic agents)
  • is yet another reason why the haemodynamic monitor of choice in shocked patients should be echocardiography!

Echo showing systolic anterior motion of the mitral valve

1. Pathophysiology of Dynamic Left Ventricular Outflow Tract Obstruction in a Critically Ill Patient Echocardiography. 2010 Nov;27(10):E122-4

2. Dynamic Left Ventricular Outflow Tract Obstruction in Acute Myocardial Infarction With Shock Circulation. 2007 Jul 31;116(5):e110-3 Free Full Text 3. Dynamic left ventricular outflow tract obstruction in acute coronary syndromes: an important cause of new systolic murmur and cardiogenic shock Mayo Clin Proc. 1999 Sep;74(9):901-6

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