Exercise testing is increasingly utilized to evaluate the level of exercise intolerance in patients with lung and heart diseases. Cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET) is considered the gold standard to study a patient's level of exercise limitation and its causes. The 2 CPET protocols most frequently used in the clinical setting are the maximal incremental and the constant work rate tests. The aim of this review is to focus on the main respiratory diseases for which exercise tolerance is indicated; for example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, interstitial lung disease, primary pulmonary hypertension and cystic fibrosis. This review also focuses on the variables/indices that are utilized in the functional and prognostic evaluation. The recognition of abnormal response patterns of ventilatory, cardiac and metabolic limitation to exercise may help in the diagnostic evaluation. In addition, CPET indexes can provide important functional and prognostic information regarding patients with pulmonary disease. Exercise indices, such as peak oxygen uptake (V'O(2 peak)), ventilatory equivalents for carbon dioxide production (V'(E)-/V'CO(2)) and arterial oxygen saturation (S(p)O(2)), have in fact proven to be better predictors of prognosis than lung function measurements obtained at rest. Moreover, useful information on the effects of therapeutic interventions may be obtained by CPET by studying the changes in endurance capacity during high-intensity constant work rate protocols.
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