Published on Sat Jan 23 2021

George L Brengelmann

More than sixty years ago, Guyton and coworkers related their observations of venous return to a mathematical model. Today, the perceived importance of Pms is evident in the efforts to find reliable ways to estimate it in patients.

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More than sixty years ago, Guyton and coworkers related their observations of venous return to a mathematical model. Showing steady-state flow (F) as proportional to the difference between mean systemic pressure (Pms) and right atrial pressure (Pra), the model fit their data. The parameter defined by the ratio (Pms - Pra)/F, first called an "impedance," came to be called the "resistance to venous return." The interpretation that Pra opposes Pms and that, to increase output, the heart must act to reduce back pressure at the right atrium was widely accepted. Today, the perceived importance of Pms is evident in the efforts to find reliable ways to estimate it in patients. This article reviews concepts about venous return, criticizing some as inconsistent with elementary physical principles. After review of basic background topics-the steady-state vascular compliance; stressed versus unstressed volume-simulations from a multicompartment model based on data and definitions from Rothe's classical review of the venous system are presented. They illustrate the obligatory connection between flow-dependent compartment pressures and the distribution of volume among vascular compartments. An appendix shows that the pressure profile can be expressed either as decrements relative to arterial pressure or as increments relative to Pra (the option taken in the original model). Conclusion: The (Pms - Pra)/F formulation was never about Pms physically driving venous return; it was about how intravascular volume distributes among compliant compartments in accordance with their flow-dependent distending pressures, arbitrarily expressed relative to Pra rather than arterial pressure.