6-minute walk testing is more sensitive than maximal incremental cycle testing for detecting oxygen desaturation in patients with COPD

Chest. 2003 May;123(5):1401-7. doi: 10.1378/chest.123.5.1401.


Study objectives: Some respiratory patients exhibit oxygen desaturation during rehabilitative walking but not during maximal cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET). We evaluated exercise-induced desaturation during 6-min walk testing (6MWT) in comparison with CPET in patients with COPD and determined the reproducibility of the phenomenon.

Patients: We tested 80 consecutive patients with COPD (FEV(1), 62.4 +/- 2% predicted) and 10 patients with supplementary COPD (FEV(1), 59.1 +/- 5% predicted) [mean +/- SEM] to determine the reproducibility.

Measurements and results: First, patients with COPD performed cycle CPET (first CPET [CPET-1]). Three days later, they performed two 6MWTs (first 6MWT [6MWT-1] and second 6MWT [6MWT-2]). Pulse oximetric saturation (SpO(2)) was recorded every minute in both tests. Three groups emerged: desaturation at 6MWT not observed at CPET (DND) [n = 23], desaturation in both tests (n = 16), and no desaturation in either test (n = 41). Second, to evaluate reproducibility, 10 additional subjects with COPD who exhibited desaturation during two successive 6MWTs but not in CPET performed a second CPET (CPET-2) and a single-bout 6MWT (6MWT-3) in a supplementary trial. When two CPETs were performed, lack of O(2) desaturation was noted in both. O(2) desaturation was confirmed in 6MWT-2 and 6MWT-3 (7.4 +/- 1% and 7.4 +/- 1.5%, respectively).

Conclusion: Twenty-eight percent of patients with COPD presented DND. The phenomenon was reproducible and not protocol dependent, emphasizing the clinical interest of the 6MWT.

MeSH terms

  • Exercise Test*
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / blood*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / blood*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Walking*


  • Oxygen