UMEM Educational Pearls

Right Heart Failure in the Critically Ill

  • In its most simplistic form, right heart failure (RHF) is due to either to right ventricular contractile dysfunction or elevated right ventricular afterload.
    • Primary causes of RV contractile dysfunction include: coronary ischemia, sepsis, drug toxicity, and acute pulmonary hypertension
    • Primary causes of increased RV afterload include: LV dysfunction, venous thromboembolism, hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction, and lung injury
  • Management of the patient with RHF centers on identifying and treating reversible causes, optimizing preload, inotropes, and possible implantation of a right ventricular assist device.
  • Importantly, excessive volume loading can worsen RV contractile function, increase RV dilatation, and impair LV output and systemic perfusion.
  • Consider early use of inotropic agents, such as dobutamine, in critically ill patients with RHF.


Greyson CR. Right heart failure in the intensive care unit. Curr Opin Crit Care 2012; 18:424-31.