Cardiopulmonary exercise testing: relevant but underused

Postgrad Med. 2010 Nov;122(6):68-86. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2010.11.2225.


Cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPX) is a relatively old technology, but has sustained relevance for many primary care clinical scenarios in which it is, ironically, rarely considered. Advancing computer technology has made CPX easier to administer and interpret at a time when our aging population is more prone to comorbidities and higher prevalence of nonspecific symptoms of exercise intolerance and dyspnea, for which CPX is particularly useful diagnostically and prognostically. These discrepancies in application are compounded by patterns in which CPX is often administered and interpreted by cardiology, pulmonary, or exercise specialists who limit their assessments to the priorities of their own discipline, thereby missing opportunities to distinguish symptom origins. When used properly, CPX enables the physician to assess fitness and uncover cardiopulmonary issues at earlier phases of work-up, which would therefore be especially useful for primary care physicians. In this article, we provide an overview of CPX principles and testing logistics, as well as some of the clinical contexts in which it can enhance patient care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anaerobic Threshold
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Exercise Test / methods*
  • Exercise Test / statistics & numerical data
  • Exercise Tolerance*
  • Female
  • Heart Function Tests
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Male
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Physical Fitness
  • Prognosis
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index