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Circulation. 1994 Jun;89(6):2605-15.

Central and peripheral limitations to upright exercise in untrained cardiac transplant recipients.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710.



Functional capacity and quality of life are subjectively improved after cardiac transplantation. However, the objective improvement in exercise tolerance after transplantation has been disappointing. The extent to which allograft diastolic dysfunction contributes to this exercise intolerance has not been defined.


Thirty cardiac transplant recipients between 3 and 16 months after transplantation and 30 age-matched normal control subjects underwent maximal symptom-limited graded upright bicycle exercise testing with simultaneous radionuclide angiography, invasive hemodynamic monitoring, and breath-by-breath gas analysis. Mean blood pressure was higher in the transplant group at supine rest (112.1 versus 97.7 mm Hg), normalized with upright posture, and became lower than normal at peak exercise (121.1 versus 133.2 mm Hg). Systolic function as measured by ejection fraction was normal in both groups. However, the cardiac transplant recipients had significantly lower exercise tolerance, achieving a mean maximal work rate of 390 kilopond-meters per minute (kpm/min), compared with 825 kpm/min in the normal subjects. Peak oxygen consumption was 12.3 in the transplant group, 46% lower than the normal group's value of 22.9 The transplant patients had a resting tachycardia (94 beats per minute) and a 79% reduction in exercise heart rate reserve compared with normal. Despite this chronotropic incompetence, stroke index response to exercise was consistently lower after transplantation, accounting for a 41% reduction in cardiac index at maximal exercise. The lower stroke index was accompanied by a 32% lower end-diastolic volume index at rest and a 14% lower end-diastolic volume index at peak exercise. Despite the smaller ventricular volumes after transplantation, pulmonary capillary wedge pressure was 35% higher than normal at supine rest and 50% higher at maximal exercise. Right atrial and mean pulmonary arterial pressures were similarly elevated. The ratio of pulmonary capillary wedge pressure to end-diastolic volume index was significantly higher during the postural change and exercise, suggesting allograft diastolic dysfunction. Arteriovenous oxygen difference was similar between groups at rest and with submaximal exercise but was 24% lower at maximal exercise in the transplant group, suggesting an abnormality in peripheral oxygen uptake or utilization.


Exercise tolerance is severely limited during the first 16 months after cardiac transplantation despite preservation of allograft left ventricular systolic function. This intolerance is due to an inadequate cardiac index response from a combination of chronotropic incompetence and diastolic dysfunction limiting the appropriate compensatory use of the Starling mechanism. In addition, there is a peripheral abnormality in oxygen transport or utilization that may partially reflect the effects of deconditioning.

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