This article examines the expected exercise-induced changes in the components of the oxygen transport system as described by the Fick equation with a view to enable a critical analysis of a standard incremental exercise test to identify normal and abnormal patterns of responses and generate hypotheses as to potential physiological and/or pathophysiological causes. The text reviews basic physiological principals and provides useful reminders of standard equations that serve to integrate circulatory, respiratory and skeletal muscle functions. More specifically, the article provides a conceptual and quantitative framework linking the exercise-induced increase in whole body oxygen uptake to central circulatory and peripheral circulatory factors with the view to establish the normalcy of response. Thus, the article reviews the exercise response to cardiac output determinants and provides qualitative and quantitative perspective bases for making assumptions on the peripheral circulatory factors and oxygen use. Finally, the article demonstrates the usefulness of exercise testing as an effective integrative physiological approach to develop clinical reasoning or verify pathophysiological outcomes.
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