Study objectives: To clarify the effects of oxygen on exercise performance and pulmonary hemodynamics during exercise in patients with COPD with mild hypoxemia at rest.
Design: Seventy-five male patients with stable COPD ("pink puffer" type), accompanied by mild hypoxemia (> 60 mm Hg) at rest and with mild (percentage of predicted FEV1 [%FEV1] > 50%, n = 16), moderate (%FEV1 > 35% to < or = 50%, n = 25), and severe (%FEV1 < or =35%, n = 34) airflow obstruction were recruited from an outpatient clinic. A 6-min walking distance (6MD) test was administered to 75 patients, and the pulmonary hemodynamics of 43 subjects were determined during exercise on a supine bicycle ergometer at 25 W and breathing compressed air and oxygen at 2 L/min.
Results: Supplemental oxygen resulted in a significant increase in 6MD, except for patients with mild airflow obstruction and mild desaturation. This increase in 6MD produced by oxygen was greater as the restriction of the airflow was more severe, and correlated negatively with %FEV1, but not with PaO2 at rest or exercise hypoxemia. Pulmonary artery pressure (Ppa) and pulmonary artery occlusion pressure (Pop) increased with exercise, while the rates of increase in both types of pressure were significantly higher for severe COPD than for mild COPD and moderate COPD. Oxygen inhalation significantly reduced the increases in Ppa and Pop during exercise in patients with moderate-to-severe COPD, and the effect of oxygen on the increase in Pop correlated positively with airtrapping (vital capacity - FVC).
Conclusion: These findings suggest that supplemental oxygen benefits patients with COPD with moderate-to-severe airflow obstruction and mild hypoxemia at rest, as reflected in improvement in exercise performance and pulmonary hypertension during exercise.