Comparison of exercise cardiac output by the Fick principle using oxygen and carbon dioxide

Chest. 2000 Sep;118(3):631-40. doi: 10.1378/chest.118.3.631.


Background and study objective: Theoretically, cardiac output (CO) calculated by the Fick principle should be the same using O(2) (CO[O2]) or CO2 (CO[CO2]) as the test gas. However, agreement depends on the accuracy of gas exchange and blood gas measurements and the validity of the equations to convert measured variables into blood gas contents. Considering the widespread use of indirect estimates of pulmonary artery blood PCO2 and CO2 content to measure Fick principle CO during exercise, we wished to determine whether CO[O2] and CO[CO2] were equal during exercise and whether CO[CO2] could be accurately and precisely determined using direct measures of pulmonary artery blood. PREPARATION AND METHODS: Five healthy young nonsmoking volunteer men performed incremental exercise from rest to peak exercise on two separate occasions with intervening rest. Catheters were placed in brachial and pulmonary arteries to allow repeated blood sampling every minute during concurrent breath-by-breath gas exchange measurements from rest to peak exercise. CO[O2] was compared with CO[CO2] at multiple levels of exercise. Using standard equations, arterial and mixed venous O2 contents were calculated from hemoglobin concentration (Hb), oxyhemoglobin saturation (SO2), and PO2, whereas CO2 contents were calculated from PCO2, pH, Hb, and SO2. Blood gas analyzers were used for measurement of pH, PCO2, and PO2, and a co-oximeter was used for measurement of Hb and SO2. Initial calculations suggested that exercise CO[CO2] was 14% higher than CO[O2] and helped disclose small systematic measurement errors in PCO(2) for values > 45 mm Hg detected by proficiency testing surveys and documented with blood tonometry in the blood gas analyzer.

Results: After correcting PCO2 for the small systematic measurement error found, the measures and equations used to calculate arterial and mixed venous O2 and CO2 contents were adequate to provide mean CO values that are reasonably similar. However CO[CO2] values were more than twice as variable as CO[O2].

Conclusions: The increased variability of Fick principle CO[CO2] compared with CO[O2] is attributable to the much lower extraction ratio for CO2 and the greater complexity in calculation of blood CO2 than O2 contents. These results raise concerns about the accuracy and precision of estimating CO and stroke volume using CO2 as a test gas, even with direct measurement of blood CO2 contents in normal subjects.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Gas Analysis
  • Carbon Dioxide / blood*
  • Cardiac Output / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Oxygen / blood*
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Hemoglobins
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen