or Eisenmenger's reaction
is defined as the process in which a left-to-right shunt in the heart causes increased flow through the pulmonary vasculature
, causing pulmonary hypertension
, which in turn, causes increased pressures in the right side of the heart and reversal of the shunt into a right-to-left shunt.
Conditions needed for a person to be diagnosed with Eisenmenger's Syndrome are:
- an underlying heart defect that allows blood to pass between the left and right sides of the heart.
- pulmonary hypertension, or elevated blood pressure in the lungs
- polycythemia, an increase in the number of red blood cells
- the reversal of the shunt
Eisenmenger's syndrome was so named
by Dr. Paul Wood after Dr. Victor Eisenmenger, who first described the condition in 1897
A number of congenital heart defects can cause Eisenmenger's syndrome, including atrial septal defects
, ventricular septal defects
, patent ductus arteriosus
, and more complex types of acyanotic heart disease
The left side of the heart supplies blood to the whole body, and as a result has higher pressures than the right side, which supplies only deoxygenated blood to the lungs. If a large anatomic defect exists between the sides of the heart, blood will flow from the left side to the right side. This results in high blood flow and pressure travelling through the lungs. The increased pressure causes damage to delicate capillaries, which then are replaced with scar tissue. Scar tissue does not contribute to oxygen transfer, therefore decreasing the useful volume of the pulmonary vasculature. The scar tissue also provides less flexibility than normal lung tissue, causing further increases in blood pressure, and the heart must pump harder to continue supplying the lungs, leading to damage of more capillaries.
The reduction in oxygen transfer reduces oxygen saturation in the blood, leading to increased production of red blood cells in an attempt to bring the oxygen saturation up. The excess of red blood cells is called polycythemia. Desperate for enough circulating oxygen, the body begins to dump immature red cells into the blood stream. Immature red cells are not as efficient at carrying oxygen as mature red cells, and they are less flexible, less able to easily squeeze through tiny capillaries in the lungs, and so contribute to death of pulmonary capillary beds. The increase in red blood cells also causes hyperviscosity syndrome.
A person with Eisenmenger's Syndrome is paradoxically subject to the possibility of both uncontrolled bleeding due to damaged capillaries and high pressure, and random clots due to hyperviscosity and stasis of blood. The rough places in the heart lining at the site of the septal defects/shunts tend to gather platelets and keep them out of circulation, and may be the source of random clots.
Eventually, due to increased resistance, pulmonary pressures may increase sufficiently to cause a reversal of blood flow, so blood begins to travel from the right side of the heart to the left side, and the body is supplied with deoxygenated blood, leading to cyanosis and resultant organ damage.
In early childhood, surgical intervention can repair the heart defect, preventing most of the pathogenesis of Eisenmenger's syndrome. If treatment has not taken place, heart-lung transplant
is required to fully treat the syndrome. If this option is not available, treatment is mostly palliative
, using pulmonary vasodilators such as bosentan
, antibiotic prophylaxis
to prevent endocarditis, phlebotomy
to treat polycythemia, and maintaining proper fluid balance. These measures can prolong lifespan and improve quality of life. Anticoagulants
should rarely if ever be administered to a patient with eisenmenger syndrome due to the fact that they generally have a prolonged aPTT
, decreased coagulation factors, decreased platelet counts and abnormal platelet function. If anticoagulants are administered, the INR should be kept on the low side of the therapeutic range.
- Mayo Clinic, "Detailed Description of Eisenmenger's Syndrome"
- Down's Heart Group, "Easily understood description of Eisenmenger's Syndrome and how it affects people with Down's Syndrome who have unoperated congenital heart defects."