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Am J Med. 1993 Oct;95(4):413-8.

Failure of the circulatory system limits exercise performance in patients with systemic sclerosis.

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Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston 29425.



To determine the mechanisms for exercise impairment in symptomatic patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) using breath-by-breath expired-gas analysis with incremental exercise testing.


Prospective, open trial.


Fifteen consecutive patients with SSc seen at the Medical University Hospital (a tertiary referral center) with complaints of exercise intolerance underwent pulmonary function testing (spirometry, helium dilution lung volumes, and diffusing capacity of carbon monoxide) and incremental exercise testing on a cycle ergometer measuring oxygen consumption (VO2), carbon dioxide production (VCO2), respiratory exchange ratio (R), oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and heart rate (HR). Values for oxygen uptake at anaerobic threshold (VO2AT) were derived graphically by blinded clinicians experienced in exercise testing, and the results were averaged. Ventilatory reserve and oxygen pulse were calculated from measured values, and all data were subjected to analysis by standard clinical algorithms.


Of 15 patients studied, 14 had either restrictive lung disease or normal results of spirometry on pulmonary function testing. One patient with a history of tobacco use had evidence of airways obstruction. Three patients were unable to exercise maximally (as determined by maximum respiratory exchange ratio [Rmax] greater than 1.09 or maximum heart rate [HRmax] greater than 85% predicted), and exercise testing was terminated in one with Mobitz type II atrioventricular block. The following data (mean +/- SEM) were obtained from 11 maximally exercising patients: VO2max 795 +/- 75 mL oxygen (O2)/min, R 1.34 +/- 0.05, VO2AT/VO2max predicted 0.21 +/- 0.02, O2 pulse 5.1 +/- 0.4 mL O2/beat, ventilatory reserve 0.52 +/- 0.06, and tidal volume/forced vital capacity ratio 0.46 +/- 0.02. Of the 11 patients completing breath-by-breath expired-gas analysis, all had circulatory impairment to exercise, as determined by low O2 pulse and low VO2 at anaerobic threshold, and circulatory impairment was limiting in 9 of 11 patients. Of those nine patients, four had evidence of impaired gas exchange compatible with pulmonary vascular disease. Arterial oxygen desaturation occurred in 2 of 11 patients.


Circulatory impairment to exercise is common in SSc patients with exercise intolerance. Restrictive lung disease, although also common, does not limit exercise tolerance in patients capable of maximal effort.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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