Background: Both pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary overflow are associated with functional and structural changes of the pulmonary arterial wall. Current techniques to evaluate the pulmonary vasculature neglect the pulsatile nature of pulmonary flow.
Study objectives: To determine whether the dynamic properties of the pulmonary arterial wall are altered in patients with abnormal pulmonary hemodynamics due to congenital heart defects, and whether these changes are associated with the progression of pulmonary vascular disease (PVD).
Patients and methods: In 43 children with PVD due to congenital heart defects and 12 control subjects, pulmonary arterial pulsatility (the relative increase in vessel area during the cardiac cycle) and distensibility (the inverse of the stress/strain elastic modulus) were determined with intravascular ultrasound. Results were correlated with clinical and hemodynamic parameters.
Results: Pulsatility correlated with pulmonary pulse pressure (p < 0.001), pulmonary-to-systemic vascular resistance ratio (PVR/SVR) [p = 0.001], and hemoglobin concentration (p = 0.01). However, when corrected for these variables, pulsatility did not differ between patients and control subjects. In contrast, arterial wall distensibility decreased with the severity of PVD and correlated independently with pulmonary-to-systemic arterial pressure ratio (p < 0.001) and PVR/SVR (p = 0.03), and with hemoglobin concentration (p < 0.01). Adjusted for hemodynamic variables, distensibility was still decreased in patients with PVD compared to control subjects.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that pulmonary arterial wall distensibility is progressively decreased in PVD; moreover, this decreased distensibility is, in part, related to increased distending pressure as a result of pulmonary hypertension but also, in part, to stiffening of the arterial wall during the disease process. Arterial wall distensibility may be of additional value in the evaluation of pulmonary vasculature and ventricular workload.