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Fontan circulation


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Definition: separates pulmonary and systemic blood flow in single ventricle physiology; accomplished by intra-atrial lateral tunnelling of the IVC flow into RPA, or extracardiac via conduit (extracardiac Fontan)


  • Better systemic oxygenation
  • Reduced volume load to the systemic ventricle
  • May be fenestrated to obtain adequate CO postoperative

Preoperative preparation:

ECG, CXR, CUS, FBE, clotting, UECs, PRBC (4), FFP (2), platelets (2), cryoprecipitate (2).

Risk assessment for Fontan candidates:

  • Elevated PVR (>4 Wood units or mPAP >15 mmHg)
  • Impaired ventricular function (EF <45%)
  • Impaired ventricular diastolic function
  • AV valve incompetence (LVEDP >12 mmhg)
  • Small PA size (McGoon ratio)
  • Subaortic obstruction

Postoperative management:

Discuss anticoagulation with surgeon…

  • Commence heparin 10 U/kg/hr once no major bleeding , further long-term anticoagulation with Vitamin-K antagonist (INR 2-3)
  • Respiratory: normoxaemia, in fenestrated Fontan SpO2 >80%, normocapnea (mild hypercapnea improves oxygenation!), try to extubate early if feasible
  • Inotropes: usually not required, if so milrinone to decrease PVR and SVR and improve ventricular dysfunction
  • Goal is to lower PVR if possible, as this is the main determinant factor for CO in postoperative Fontan circulation; extubate early
  • Fluid restriction: 2 ml/kg/hr for the first day; feed early
  • Haemostasis (restrictive transfusion strategy if stable)

Specific problems:

  • Pleural effusions → replace losses (full/half/quarter)
  • Low CO: hypovolemia (low CVP, low LAP) → volume
  • Obstruction SVC/PA anastomosis (high CVP, low LAP) → ECHO, angio
  • High PVR (high CVP, low LAP). To lower PVR: milrinone, iNO
  • Exclude pulmonary venous obstruction (ECHO)
  • Ventricular dysfunction (high CVP, high LAP): commence low dose milrinone (0.25 mcg/kg/min) as more common diastolic dysfunction, exclude AV valve regurgitation (ECHO)
  • Persistent hypoxaemia: fenestration, low CO → ECHO; low SmvO2, unrecognised abnormal systemic connection → ECHO, angio, lung disease
  • Systemic venous hypertension: pleural effusion, ascites – drain early. If chronic: protein-losing enteropathy
  • Dysrhythmias: avoid inotropic, chronotropic support if feasible


  • Low perioperative mortality <2%
  • Absence of death or transplantation after 1y: 80%, 5 yrs: 77%, 10 yrs: 75%, 25 yrs: 54%
  • Major morbidity: tacharrhythmias, thrombotic events, PLE


[1] Critical Heart Disease in Infants and Children; 2nd ed, Nichols et al: Tricuspid Atresia

[2] Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2010 Mar;11(2 Suppl):S57-69: Giglia et al: Preoperative pulmonary hemodynamics and assessment of operability: is there a pulmonary vascular resistance that precludes cardiac operation?

[3] Interact Cardiovasc Thorac Surg. 2010 Mar;10(3):428-33: Gewillig et al: The Fontan circulation: who controls cardiac output?

[4] Interact Cardiovasc Thorac Surg. 2010 Feb;10(2):262-5. Gewillig et al: Volume load paradox while preparing for the Fontan: not too much for the ventricle, not too little for the lungs

[5] Pediatr Cardiol. 2007 Nov-Dec;28(6):448-56: Deal t al: Arrhythmia management in the Fontan patient.[6] Circulation. 2008 Jan 1;117(1):85-92: Khairy et al: Long-term survival, modes of death, and predictors of mortality in patients with Fontan surgery

[7] Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2011 Vol. 12, No.1: 39-45: Cholette et al: Children with single-ventricle physiology do not benefit from higher haemoglobin levels post cavopulmonary connection: Results of a prospective, randomized, controlled trial of a restrictive versus liberal red-cell transfusion strategy

All Marc’s PICU cardiology FOAM can be found on PICU Doctor and can be downloaded as a handy app for free on iPhone or AndroidA list of contributors can be seen here.

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