Background: In patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a restriction on maximum ventilatory capacity contributes to exercise limitation. It has been demonstrated that the diaphragm in COPD is relatively protected from fatigue during exercise. Because of expiratory flow limitation the abdominal muscles are activated early during exercise in COPD. This adds significantly to the work of breathing and may therefore contribute to exercise limitation. In healthy subjects, prior expiratory muscle fatigue has been shown itself to contribute to the development of quadriceps fatigue. It is not known whether fatigue of the abdominal muscles occurs during exercise in COPD.
Methods: Twitch gastric pressure (TwT10Pga), elicited by magnetic stimulation over the 10th thoracic vertebra and twitch transdiaphragmatic pressure (TwPdi), elicited by bilateral anterolateral magnetic phrenic nerve stimulation were measured before and after symptom-limited, incremental cycle ergometry in patients with COPD.
Results: Twenty-three COPD patients, with a mean (SD) FEV1 40.8(23.1)% predicted, achieved a mean peak workload of 53.5(15.9) W. Following exercise, TwT10Pga fell from 51.3(27.1) cmH2O to 47.4(25.2) cmH2O (p = 0.011). TwPdi did not change significantly; pre 17.0(6.4) cmH2O post 17.5(5.9) cmH2O (p = 0.7). Fatiguers, defined as having a fall TwT10Pga > or = 10% had significantly worse lung gas transfer, but did not differ in other exercise parameters.
Conclusions: In patients with COPD, abdominal muscle but not diaphragm fatigue develops following symptom limited incremental cycle ergometry. Further work is needed to establish whether abdominal muscle fatigue is relevant to exercise limitation in COPD, perhaps indirectly through an effect on quadriceps fatigability.