In the newborn period, decreased right atrial pressure results in functional closure of the foramen ovale (FO). The objective of this study was to investigate whether air bubbles infused in the vena cava will pass through the FO into the arterial circulation in a newborn animal. Since air tends to rise to the highest point in a fluid, the study also investigated whether the animal's position could influence arterialization of air. Twelve 1-3-d-old piglets were anaesthetized and mechanically ventilated, and had catheters placed in the vena cava for infusion of air, in the aorta for blood gas and blood pressure measurements, and in the pulmonary artery for pressure measurements. After stabilization, 0.05 ml kg1 per minute of air was infused for 25 min followed by a 3 h observation period. Six piglets were placed in the left, and six in the right lateral recumbent position. Air bubbles in the left atrium or ventricle was monitored by echocardiography. Ultrasound Doppler probes were placed on both carotid arteries for detection of air embolism. Gas bubbles were detected in the left ventricle within 45 s of air infusion in 11 of 12 piglets. Eight piglets had air bubbles in the carotid arteries. Mean pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) increased significantly after 1 min of air infusion, whereas mean systemic arterial pressure remained unchanged. When arterial air embolism occurred, PAP had not increased significantly. The time to reach maximum PAP with the animals in the left recumbent position was significantly shorter than in the right.
Conclusion: This study shows that venous gas bubbles enter the arterial circulation through the FO in newborn piglets and that body position may influence the haemodynamic effect of these bubbles.