Effective nursing care and interventions play a vital role in optimizing cardiac function, ensuring hemodynamic stability, and preventing potential complications associated with decreased cardiac output, including organ failure, inadequate tissue perfusion, and reduced oxygenation. This comprehensive guide equips healthcare professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide optimal cardiac support through thorough nursing assessments, accurate nursing diagnoses, well-defined goals, and evidence-based interventions.
Table of contents
What is cardiac output?
Cardiac output is the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute. It is the product of the heart rate, which is the number of beats per minute, and the stroke volume, which is the amount pumped per beat (Cardiac output = heart rate x stroke volume). The cardiac output is usually expressed in liters/minute (L/min).
The normal cardiac output of a healthy adult is generally considered to be between 5-6 liters per minute (L/min) at rest (King and Lowery, 2022). However, it is important to note that normal range can vary depending on various factors such as age, size, and activity level. For example, elite athletes have a cardiac output of more than 35L/min during exercise.
Measuring cardiac output
There are several methods that can be used to calculate and measure cardiac output, including the Doppler ultrasound, Fick Method, the thermodilution method, and arterial pulse contour analysis method.
- Doppler ultrasound. This method uses ultrasound and the doppler effect to measure cardiac output. The velocity of the blood through the heart causes a Doppler shift in the frequency of returning ultrasound waves. This shift is used to determine flow velocity and flow volume which are used to calculate for cardiac output using a formula.
- Fick’ Method. This method involves measuring the oxygen consumption of the body and the amount of oxygen being delivered to the body. The technique is based on Fick’s principle which states that the rate of oxygen consumption is equal to the product of the cardiac output and the difference in oxygen content between the arterial and venous blood.
- Thermodilution Method. This method involves injecting a small amount of cold saline into an artery via a PAC and measuring the temperature change in the blood as it flows through the body. Using a specialized thermistor-tipped catheter, the temperature change can be used to calculate the cardiac output.
- Arterial Pulse Contour Analysis. Is a technique that involves using a specialized device to measure the shape and strength of the arterial pulse wave. The cardiac output is calculated using an algorithm based on the pulse waveform.
A decrease in cardiac output occurs when the blood pumped by the heart does not meet the metabolic demands of the body. Several cardiovascular disease such as myocardial infarction, heart failure, dysrhythmias, and other problems in fluid volume, can cause decrease in cardiac output
Causes of decrease in cardiac output
Conditions like myocardial infarction, hypertension, valvular heart disease, congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, pulmonary disease, arrhythmias, drug effects, fluid overload, decreased fluid volume, and electrolyte imbalance is common causes of decreased cardiac output. Additionally, here are some related factors that may be related to decrease in cardiac output:
- Alteration in heart rate, rhythm, and conduction. Any disturbance in the heart’s electrical system can disrupt the coordinated contraction and relaxation of the cardiac muscle, leading to decreased cardiac output.
- Cardiac muscle disease. Conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle, such as cardiomyopathy or myocarditis, can impair the heart’s ability to pump effectively, resulting in decreased cardiac output.
- Decreased oxygenation. Insufficient oxygen supply to the heart muscle, often caused by conditions like coronary artery disease or respiratory disorders, can lead to impaired cardiac function and decreased cardiac output.
- Impaired contractility. Damage to the heart muscle due to conditions like myocardial infarction or heart failure can weaken the heart’s ability to contract forcefully, resulting in decreased cardiac output.
- Increased afterload. When the resistance against which the heart must pump blood increases, such as in conditions like hypertension or aortic stenosis, the heart has to work harder to overcome this resistance, leading to decreased cardiac output.
- Increased or decreased ventricular filling (preload). If the volume of blood entering the heart (preload) is either excessively high or low, it can affect the amount of blood the heart can pump out, resulting in decreased cardiac output.
Signs and symptoms
A decrease in cardiac output is characterized by the following manifestations:
- Abnormal heart sounds (S3, S4)
- Anxiety, restlessness
- Change in level of consciousness
- Crackles, dyspnea, orthopnea, tachypnea
- Decreased activity tolerance
- Decreased cardiac output
- Decreased peripheral pulses; cold, clammy skin/poor capillary refill
- Decreased venous and arterial oxygen saturation
- Ejection fraction less than 40%
- Increased central venous pressure (CVP)
- Increased pulmonary artery pressure (PAP)
- Weight gain, edema, decreased urine output
Goals and outcomes
The following are the common goals and expected outcomes for the nursing diagnosis of decreased cardiac output:
- Patient demonstrates adequate cardiac output as evidenced by blood pressure and pulse rate and rhythm within normal parameters for patient; strong peripheral pulses; and an ability to tolerate activity without symptoms of dyspnea, syncope, or chest pain.
- Patient exhibits warm, dry skin, eupnea with absence of pulmonary crackles.
- Patient remains free of side effects from the medications used to achieve adequate cardiac output.
- Patient explains actions and precautions to take for cardiac disease.
Related Nursing Care Plans
Conditions and diseases that are related to decrease in cardiac output:
- Heart Failure Nursing Care Plans
- Hypertension Nursing Care Plans
- Myocardial Infarction Nursing Care Plans
- Congenital Heart Disease Nursing Care Plans
- Anaphylactic Shock Nursing Care Plans
- Preeclampsia and Gestational Hypertensive Disorders Nursing Care Plans
- More Decreased Cardiac Output examples here.
Nursing assessment and rationales
Assessment is necessary to distinguish possible problems that may have led to decreased cardiac output and name any episode during nursing care.
1. Assess heart rate and blood pressure.
Compensatory tachycardia is a common response for patients with significantly low blood pressure to reduce cardiac output. Initially, this compensatory response has a favorable effect on cardiac output but can be harmful when it becomes persistent.
2. Check for peripheral pulses. Perform capillary refill test (CRT).
Weak pulses are present in reduced stroke volume and cardiac output. Capillary refill is sometimes slow or absent. Current studies indicate that capillary refill test measurement is affected by multiple external factors (Pickard et al., 2011). CRT is an easy and quick test to perform; unfortunately, its results cannot be interpreted with any degree of confidence in the adult population (Lewin & Maconochie, 2008). Clinical decisions should not be based on CRT measurement alone.
3. Auscultate heart sounds for gallops (S3, S4); auscultate breath sounds.
The new onset of a gallop rhythm, tachycardia, and fine crackles in lung bases can indicate the onset of heart failure. If the patient develops pulmonary edema, there will be coarse crackles on inspiration and severe dyspnea. S3 indicates reduced left ventricular ejection and is a class sign of left ventricular failure. S4 occurs with reduced compliance of the left ventricle, which impairs diastolic filling.
For more interventions and comprehensive care planning, please visit 18 Heart Failure Nursing Care Plans.
4. Note skin color, temperature, and moisture.
Cold, clammy, and pale skin is secondary to a compensatory increase in sympathetic nervous system stimulation and low cardiac output and oxygen desaturation (Leier, 2007; Bolger, 2003).
5. Check for any alterations in level of consciousness.
Alterations in cardiac output, either acutely or chronically, can lead to changes in cerebral blood flow (Meng et al., 2015). Decreased cerebral perfusion and hypoxia are reflected in irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. Older patients are particularly susceptible to reduced cerebral perfusion.
6. Note respiratory rate, rhythm, and breath sounds. Identify any presence of paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND), or orthopnea.
Shallow, rapid respirations are characteristics of decreased cardiac output. Crackles indicate fluid buildup secondary to impaired left ventricular emptying. Orthopnea is defined as aggravated shortness of breath when lying down; it is common among patients with cardiovascular disorders (Martins et al., 2010). Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND) is a sensation of shortness of breath that awakens the patient, often after 1 or 2 hours of sleep, and is usually relieved in the upright position (Mukerji, 2011). PND is closely related to decreased cardiac output. While sleeping at night, peripheral edema is reabsorbed, causing systemic and pulmonary hypervolemia, with consequent aggravation of pulmonary congestion ultimately leading to PND.
7. Assess oxygen saturation with pulse oximetry both at rest and during and after ambulation.
An alteration in oxygen saturation is one of the earliest signs of reduced cardiac output. Hypoxemia is common, especially with activity. Administer supplemental oxygen as needed.
8. Note chest pain. Identify location, radiation, severity, quality, duration, associated manifestations such as nausea, and precipitating and relieving factors.
Chest pain or chest discomfort generally suggests myocardial ischemia or inadequate blood supply to the heart, which can compromise cardiac output (Yancy et al., 2017).
9. Inspect fluid balance and weight gain. Weigh the patient regularly before breakfast. Check for pedal and sacral edema.
Compromised regulatory mechanisms may result in fluid and sodium retention and increase fluid volume. Bodyweight is a more sensitive indicator of fluid or sodium retention than intake and output. Edema is a determining characteristic of heart failure. Hepatojugular reflux and peripheral edema were the physical signs that demonstrated the best discriminative ability to differentiate levels of right atrial pressure (Goldraich et al., 2004).
10. Monitor urine output. If the patient is acutely ill, measure hourly urine output and note a decrease in output.
Reduced cardiac output results in reduced perfusion of the kidneys, with a resulting decrease in urine output.
11. Assess beta-type natriuretic peptide (BNP).
BNP is a neurohormone secreted from the cardiac ventricles and is elevated due to increasing filling pressure and volume in the left ventricle. BNP can differentiate heart failure from other causes of dyspnea in patients (Harrison et al., 2002).
12. If hemodynamic monitoring is in place, assess CVP, pulmonary artery diastolic pressure (PADP), pulmonary capillary wedge pressure (PCWP), as well as cardiac output, and cardiac index.
CVP provides information on filling pressures of the right side of the heart; PADP and PCWP reflect left-sided fluid volumes. The cardiac output provides an objective number to guide therapy.
13. Closely monitor for symptoms of heart failure and decreased cardiac output.
These symptoms include diminished quality of peripheral pulses, cold and clammy skin and extremities, increased respiratory rate, presence of paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea or orthopnea, increased heart rate, neck vein distention, decreased level of consciousness, and presence of edema. As these symptoms of heart failure progress, cardiac output declines (Yancy et al., 2017).
14. Assess for reports of fatigue and reduced activity tolerance.
Fatigue and exertional dyspnea are common problems with low cardiac output states. Close monitoring of the patient’s response serves as a guide for optimal progression of activity. Fatigue is the chief complaint reported by patients with heart failure; it has the largest effect on the daily activities and quality of life of these patients (Martins et al., 2010).
15. Ascertain contributing factors so an appropriate care plan can be initiated.
Recognizing these factors can help guide the treatment regimen.
16. Monitor electrocardiogram (ECG) for rate, rhythm, and ectopy.
Cardiac dysrhythmias may occur from low perfusion, acidosis, or hypoxia. Tachycardia, bradycardia, and ectopic beats can further compromise cardiac output. Older patients are susceptible to the loss of atrial kick in atrial fibrillation.
17. Review results of EKG and chest X-ray.
These tests can help indicate the underlying cause of decreased cardiac output. EKG can reveal previous MI or left ventricular hypertrophy, indicating aortic stenosis or chronic systemic hypertension. A chest x-ray may provide information on pulmonary edema, pleural effusions, or enlarged cardiac silhouette found in dilated cardiomyopathy or large pericardial effusion.
18. Examine laboratory data, especially arterial blood gases and electrolytes, including potassium.
The patient may be receiving cardiac glycosides, and the potential for toxicity is greater with hypokalemia; hypokalemia is common in heart patients because of diuretic use.
19. Monitor laboratory tests such as complete blood count, sodium level, and serum creatinine.
Routine blood work can provide insight into the etiology of heart failure and the extent of decompensation. A low serum sodium level often is observed with advanced heart failure and can be a poor prognostic sign. Serum creatinine levels will elevate in patients with severe heart failure because of decreased perfusion to the kidneys. Creatinine may also elevate because of ACE inhibitors.
Nursing interventions and rationales
The following are the therapeutic nursing interventions to manage a client with decreased cardiac output and for developing a nursing care plan:
1. For patients with increased preload, limit fluids and sodium as ordered.
Fluid restriction decreases the extracellular fluid volume and reduces demands on the heart.
2. Closely monitor fluid intake, including IV lines. Maintain fluid restriction if ordered.
In patients with decreased cardiac output, poorly functioning ventricles may not tolerate increased fluid volumes.
3. If chest pain is present, have the patient lie down, monitor cardiac rhythm, give oxygen, run a strip, medicate for pain, and notify the physician.
These actions can increase oxygen delivery to the coronary arteries and improve patient prognosis. Symptoms can also be manifestations of myocardial ischemia and should be reported immediately.
4. Place on a cardiac monitor; monitor for dysrhythmias, especially atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation is common in heart failure and can cause a thromboembolic event.
5. Observe patient for understanding and compliance with medical regimen, including medications, activity level, and diet.
This promotes the cooperation of the patient in their own medical situation.
6. Maintain adequate ventilation and perfusion as in the following:
- 6.1. Position patient in semi-Fowler’s to high-Fowler’s. An upright position is recommended to reduce preload and ventricular filling when fluid overload is the cause.
- 6.2.Place the patient in a supine position. For hypovolemia, supine positioning increases venous return and promotes diuresis.
7. Administer oxygen therapy as prescribed.
The failing heart may not be able to respond to increased oxygen demands. Oxygen saturation needs to be greater than 90%.
8. Administer medications as prescribed, noting side effects and toxicity.
Depending on etiological factors, common medications include digitalis therapy, diuretics, vasodilator therapy, antidysrhythmics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and inotropic agents. Commonly used medications for decreased cardiac output in heart failure can be found here.
9. During acute events, ensure the patient remains on bed rest or maintains an activity level that does not compromise cardiac output.
In severe heart failure, restriction of activity often facilitates temporary recompensation.
10. Monitor blood pressure, pulse, and condition before administering cardiac medications such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, digoxin, and beta-blockers such as carvedilol. Notify the physician if heart rate or blood pressure is low before holding medications.
The nurse must assess how well the patient tolerates current medications before administering cardiac medications; do not hold medications without physician input. The physician may decide to have medications administered even though the blood pressure or pulse rate has lowered.
11. Monitor bowel function. Provide stool softeners as ordered. Tell the patient to avoid straining when defecating.
Decreased activity can cause constipation. When defecating, that results in the Valsalva maneuver, straining can lead to dysrhythmia, decreased cardiac function, and sometimes death.
12. Identify an emergency plan, including the use of CPR.
Persistent decreased cardiac output can be life-threatening.
13. Advise patient to use a commode or urinal for toileting and avoid using a bedpan.
Getting out of bed to use a commode or urinal does not stress the heart more than staying in bed to the toilet. In addition, getting the patient out of bed minimizes complications of immobility and is often preferred by the patient.
14. Apply music therapy to decrease anxiety and improve cardiac function.
Music has been shown to reduce heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety, and cardiac complications (Hanser, 2014; Chuang et al., 2010).
15. Associate patient with heart failure or cardiac rehabilitation program for education, evaluation, and guided support to increase activity and rebuild a life.
A thoroughly monitored exercise program can improve both functional capacities and left ventricular function. Cardiac rehabilitation can improve quality of life and functional capacity and decrease mortality.
16. Encourage client to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Explain the importance of smoking cessation and avoidance of alcohol intake.
Educating the patient on the effects of smoking can help them understand the health risks involved in smoking. Smoking is associated with an increased risk of heart failure, but the risk decreases with increasing duration since smoking cessation (Aune et al., 2019). Any form of heavy drinking of alcohol should be discouraged (Rehm & Roerecke, 2017). These measures can help improve cardiac output and overall health.
17. Educate the patient and significant other about the disease process, complications of the disease process, information on medications, the need for weighing daily, and when appropriate to call a primary care provider.
Early recognition of symptoms facilitates early problem solving and prompt treatment. Offer ongoing support and encourage the client to ask questions and express any concerns they may have.
18. Aid family to adapt daily living patterns to establish life changes that will maintain improved cardiac functioning in the patient.
Transition to the home setting can cause risk factors such as inappropriate diet to reemerge.
19. Educate patients on the need for and how to incorporate lifestyle changes.
Psychoeducational programs including information on stress management and health education have been shown to reduce long-term mortality and recurrence of myocardial infarction in heart patients.
20. Provide emotional support.
Listen to the concerns of the clients and answer their questions. Provide accurate, clear, and concise information about their condition and treatment options. Connect clients with support groups or counseling services.
Additional interventions: See additional interventions for decreased cardiac output in our heart failure nursing care plan.
Recommended nursing diagnosis and nursing care plan books and resources.
Ackley and Ladwig’s Nursing Diagnosis Handbook: An Evidence-Based Guide to Planning Care
We love this book because of its evidence-based approach to nursing interventions. This care plan handbook uses an easy, three-step system to guide you through client assessment, nursing diagnosis, and care planning. Includes step-by-step instructions showing how to implement care and evaluate outcomes, and help you build skills in diagnostic reasoning and critical thinking.
Nursing Care Plans – Nursing Diagnosis & Intervention (10th Edition)
Includes over two hundred care plans that reflect the most recent evidence-based guidelines. New to this edition are ICNP diagnoses, care plans on LGBTQ health issues, and on electrolytes and acid-base balance.
Nurse’s Pocket Guide: Diagnoses, Prioritized Interventions, and Rationales
Quick-reference tool includes all you need to identify the correct diagnoses for efficient patient care planning. The sixteenth edition includes the most recent nursing diagnoses and interventions and an alphabetized listing of nursing diagnoses covering more than 400 disorders.
Nursing Diagnosis Manual: Planning, Individualizing, and Documenting Client Care
Identify interventions to plan, individualize, and document care for more than 800 diseases and disorders. Only in the Nursing Diagnosis Manual will you find for each diagnosis subjectively and objectively – sample clinical applications, prioritized action/interventions with rationales – a documentation section, and much more!
All-in-One Nursing Care Planning Resource – E-Book: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Maternity, and Psychiatric-Mental Health
Includes over 100 care plans for medical-surgical, maternity/OB, pediatrics, and psychiatric and mental health. Interprofessional “patient problems” focus familiarizes you with how to speak to patients.
Other recommended site resources for this nursing care plan:
- Nursing Care Plans (NCP): Ultimate Guide and Database MUST READ!
Over 150+ nursing care plans for different diseases and conditions. Includes our easy-to-follow guide on how to create nursing care plans from scratch.
- Nursing Diagnosis Guide and List: All You Need to Know to Master Diagnosing
Our comprehensive guide on how to create and write diagnostic labels. Includes detailed nursing care plan guides for common nursing diagnostic labels.
References and Sources
Recommended journals, books, and other interesting materials to help you learn more about decreased cardiac output nursing diagnosis:
- Aune, D., Schlesinger, S., Norat, T., & Riboli, E. (2019). Tobacco smoking and the risk of heart failure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European journal of preventive cardiology, 26(3), 279-288.
- Bolger, A. P., Coats, A. J., & Gatzoulis, M. A. (2003). Congenital heart disease: the original heart failure syndrome. European Heart Journal, 24(10), 970-976.
- Chuang, C. Y., Han, W. R., Li, P. C., & Young, S. T. (2010). Effects of music therapy on subjective sensations and heart rate variability in treated cancer survivors: a pilot study. Complementary therapies in medicine, 18(5), 224-226.
- Hanser, S. B. (2014). Music therapy in cardiac health care: current issues in research. Cardiology in review, 22(1), 37-42.
- Harrison, A., Morrison, L. K., Krishnaswamy, P., Kazanegra, R., Clopton, P., Dao, Q., … & Maisel, A. S. (2002). B-type natriuretic peptide predicts future cardiac events in patients presenting to the emergency department with dyspnea. Annals of emergency medicine, 39(2), 131-138.
- King J, Lowery DR. Physiology, Cardiac Output. [Updated 2022 Jul 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-.
- Leier, C. V., & Chatterjee, K. (2007). The physical examination in heart failure—Part I. Congestive Heart Failure, 13(1), 41-47.
- Lewin, J., & Maconochie, I. (2008). Capillary refill time in adults. Emergency Medicine Journal, 25(6), 325-326.
- Lívia Goldraich, M. S., Grazziotin, T. C., Rohde, L. E., Beck-da-Silva, L., & Goldraich, L. (2004). Reliability and prognostic value of traditional signs and symptoms in outpatients with congestive heart failure. Can J Cardiol, 20(7), 697.
- Martins, Q. C. S., Aliti, G., & Rabelo, E. R. (2010). Decreased cardiac output: clinical validation in patients with decompensated heart failure. International Journal of Nursing Terminologies and Classifications, 21(4), 156-165.
- Meng, L., Hou, W., Chui, J., Han, R., & Gelb, A. W. (2015). Cardiac output and cerebral blood flow: the integrated regulation of brain perfusion in adult humans. Anesthesiology, 123(5), 1198-1208.
- Mukerji, V. (2011). Dyspnea, orthopnea, and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea.
- Pickard, A., Karlen, W., & Ansermino, J. M. (2011). Capillary refill time: is it still a useful clinical sign?. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 113(1), 120-123.
- Rehm, J., & Roerecke, M. (2017). Cardiovascular effects of alcohol consumption. Trends in cardiovascular medicine, 27(8), 534-538.
- Yancy, C. W., Jessup, M., Bozkurt, B., Butler, J., Casey Jr, D. E., Colvin, M. M., … & Westlake, C. (2017). 2017 ACC/AHA/HFSA focused update of the 2013 ACCF/AHA guideline for the management of heart failure: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines and the Heart Failure Society of America. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(6), 776-803.
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