Emerging concepts in the evaluation of ventilatory limitation during exercise: the exercise tidal flow-volume loop

Chest. 1999 Aug;116(2):488-503. doi: 10.1378/chest.116.2.488.


Traditionally, ventilatory limitation (constraint) during exercise has been determined by measuring the ventilatory reserve or how close the minute ventilation (VE) achieved during exercise (i.e., ventilatory demand) approaches the maximal voluntary ventilation (MVV) or some estimate of the MVV (i.e., ventilatory capacity). More recently, it has become clear that rarely is the MVV breathing pattern adopted during exercise and that the VE/MVV relationship tells little about the specific reason(s) for ventilatory constraint. Although it is not a new concept, by measuring the tidal exercise flow-volume (FV) loops (extFVLs) obtained during exercise and plotting them according to a measured end-expiratory lung volume (EELV) within the maximal FV envelope (MFVL), more specific information is provided on the sources (and degree) of ventilatory constraint. This includes the extent of expiratory flow limitation, inspiratory flow reserve, alterations in the regulation of EELV (dynamic hyperinflation), end-inspiratory lung volume relative to total lung capacity (or tidal volume/inspiratory capacity), and a proposed estimate of ventilatory capacity based on the shape of the MFVL and the breathing pattern adopted during exercise. By assessing these types of changes, the degree of ventilatory constraint can be quantified and a more thorough interpretation of the cardiopulmonary exercise response is possible. This review will focus on the potential role of plotting the extFVL within the MFVL for determination of ventilatory constraint during exercise in the clinical setting. Important physiologic concepts, measurements, and limitations obtained from this type of analysis will be defined and discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / physiopathology
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Ventilation
  • Respiratory Mechanics* / physiology
  • Tidal Volume
  • Total Lung Capacity