BACKGROUND: The phlebostatic axis--the junction of the fourth intercostal space and the midpoint of the anterior-posterior diameter--has been accepted as a reliable external reference point for the mid-right and mid-left atrium. Acceptance of this reference point is based upon research conducted in 1945 that measured venous pressures in the hands of subjects positioned with the head of the bed raised to different levels. The validity of this reference point for intracardiac pressure measurements in supine or laterally positioned patients has not been established. PURPOSE: To determine the validity of the phlebostatic axis in the supine and lateral positions. METHODS: To determine validity in the supine position, we compared the distance from the phlebostatic axis to a fixed external point (the bed surface) and the distance from the right and left atria in the supine position to this same fixed external point. The distances from the right and left atria to the bed surface were determined with echocardiography and were used as the standard for the proper position of external reference points. To determine the validity of the phlebostatic axis in lateral positions, we compared the distances from the right atrium and left atrium to the bed surface in the supine position with those distances in different lateral positions. RESULTS: We analyzed the data of 25 normal, healthy subjects. The study findings show that the phlebostatic axis is a valid reference point for the right atrium, and the phlebostatic axis and midanterior-posterior diameter are valid reference points for the left atrium in the supine position. However, neither is a valid external reference point in the lateral positions. Pressure measurements obtained when patients are in the lateral positions are not accurate. There remains a need to develop valid methods of accurate pressure measurements in various body positions.

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