Background: Older heart failure (HF) patients exhibit exercise intolerance during activities of daily living. We hypothesized that reduced lower extremity blood flow (LBF) due to reduced forward cardiac output would contribute to submaximal exercise intolerance in older HF patients.
Methods and results: Twelve HF patients both with preserved and reduced left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) (aged 68 +/- 10 years) without large (aorta) or medium sized (iliac or femoral artery) vessel atherosclerosis, and 13 age and gender matched healthy volunteers underwent a sophisticated battery of assessments including a) peak exercise oxygen consumption (peak VO2), b) physical function, c) cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) submaximal exercise measures of aortic and femoral arterial blood flow, and d) determination of thigh muscle area. Peak VO2 was reduced in HF subjects (14 +/- 3 ml/kg/min) compared to healthy elderly subjects (20 +/- 6 ml/kg/min) (p = 0.01). Four-meter walk speed was 1.35 +/- 0.24 m/sec in healthy elderly verses 0.98 +/- 0.15 m/sec in HF subjects (p < 0.001). After submaximal exercise, the change in superficial femoral LBF was reduced in HF participants (79 +/- 92 ml/min) compared to healthy elderly (222 +/- 108 ml/min; p = 0.002). This occurred even though submaximal stress-induced measures of the flow in the descending aorta (5.0 +/- 1.2 vs. 5.1 +/- 1.3 L/min; p = 0.87), and the stress-resting baseline difference in aortic flow (1.6 +/- 0.8 vs. 1.7 +/- 0.8 L/min; p = 0.75) were similar between the 2 groups. Importantly, the difference in submaximal exercise induced superficial femoral LBF between the 2 groups persisted after accounting for age, gender, body surface area, LVEF, and thigh muscle area (p <or= 0.03).
Conclusion: During CMR submaximal bike exercise in the elderly with heart failure, mechanisms other than low cardiac output are responsible for reduced lower extremity blood flow.