Chemohypersensitivity and autonomic modulation of venous capacitance in the pathophysiology of acute decompensated heart failure

Amy E Burchell, Paul A Sobotka, Emma C Hart, Angus K Nightingale, Mark E Dunlap

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Heart failure is increasing in prevalence around the world, with hospitalization and re-hospitalization as a result of acute decompensated heart failure (ADHF) presenting a huge social and economic burden. The mechanism for this decompensation is not clear. Whilst in some cases it is due to volume expansion, over half of patients with an acute admission for ADHF did not experience an increase in total body weight. This calls into question the current treatment strategy of targeting salt and water retention in ADHF. An alternative hypothesis proposed by Fallick et al. is that an endogenous fluid shift from the splanchnic bed is implicated in ADHF, rather than an exogenous fluid gain. The hypothesis states further that this shift is triggered by an increase in sympathetic tone causing vasoconstriction in the splanchnic bed, a mechanism that can translocate blood rapidly into the effective circulating volume, generating the raised venous pressure and congestion seen in ADHF. This hypothesis encourages a new clinical paradigm which focuses on the underlying mechanisms of congestion, and highlights the importance of fluid redistribution and neurohormonal activation in its pathophysiology. In this article, we consider the concept that ADHF is attributable to episodic sympathetic hyperactivity, resulting in fluid shifts from the splanchnic bed. Chemosensitivity is a pathologic autonomic mechanism associated with mortality in patients with systolic heart failure. Tonic and episodic activity of the peripheral chemoreceptors may underlie the syndrome of acute decompensation without total body salt and water expansion. We suggest in this manuscript that chemosensitivity in response to intermittent hypoxia, such as experienced in sleep disordered breathing, may explain the intermittent sympathetic hyperactivity underlying renal sodium retention and acute volume redistribution from venous storage sites. This hypothesis provides an alternative structure to guide novel diagnostic and treatment strategies for ADHF.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-46
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Heart Failure Reports
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013

Structured keywords

  • CRICBristol


  • Acute Disease
  • Autonomic Nervous System
  • Chemoreceptor Cells
  • Fluid Shifts
  • Heart Failure
  • Humans
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes
  • Splanchnic Circulation
  • Vascular Capacitance


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