OBJECTIVE: We sought to determine whether a critical cardiac output and oxygen delivery exist in normal pregnancy. We also sought to determine the role of fetoplacental oxygen demand on maternal oxygen transport variables in response to decreased maternal cardiac output. STUDY DESIGN: We studied 10 adult female sheep, 5 nonpregnant and 5 pregnant. We placed a flow-directed thermodilution catheter in the pulmonary artery and a balloon-tipped catheter in the right atrium of the sheep. We also placed a catheter for pressure monitoring and blood sampling in the descending thoracic aorta in both the mother and fetus. We decreased maternal cardiac output by incremental inflation of the right atrial balloon. We measured maternal cardiac output by intravenous bolus thermodilution technique. We also measured maternal and fetal acid-base status and serum lactate concentrations. We calculated a variety of maternal cardiorespiratory variables, including systemic oxygen delivery, systemic oxygen consumption, and fractional whole body tissue oxygen extraction. RESULTS: The nonpregnant sheep displayed a critical cardiac output below which there was an abrupt decrease in oxygen consumption. In contrast, there was no critical level of cardiac output in the pregnant sheep. Maternal oxygen consumption was linearly dependent on cardiac output. Maximum fractional oxygen extraction was significantly lower in the pregnant sheep than in the nonpregnant sheep. CONCLUSION: States of low cardiac output in the pregnant sheep are associated with a lack of a critical cardiac output; the flow-dependent oxygen consumption observed is the result of either an impairment in tissue oxygen extraction or some degree of metabolic arrest or a combination of both. If this unique cardiac output- oxygen consumption relationship is seen in human pregnancy, it could have significant implications in the care of the critically ill obstetric patient.
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