Cardiopulmonary exercise testing in COVID-19 patients at 3 months follow-up

Int J Cardiol. 2021 Oct 1:340:113-118. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2021.07.033. Epub 2021 Jul 24.


Background: Long-term effects of Coronavirus Disease of 2019 (COVID-19) are of utmost relevance. We aimed to determine: 1) the functional capacity of COVID-19 survivors by cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET); 2) the characteristics associated with cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET) performance; 3) the safety and tolerability of CPET.

Methods: We prospectively enrolled consecutive patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 from Azienda Sanitaria Locale 3, Genoa. Three months after hospital discharge a complete clinical evaluation, trans-thoracic echocardiography, CPET, pulmonary function tests, and dominant leg extension (DLE) maximal strength measurement were performed.

Results: From the 225 patients discharged alive from March to November 2020, we excluded 12 incomplete/missing cases and 13 unable to perform CPET, leading to a final cohort of 200. Median percent-predicted peak oxygen uptake (%pVO2) was 88% (78.3-103.1). Ninety-nine (49.5%) patients had %pVO2 below, whereas 101 (50.5%) above the 85% predicted value. Among the 99 patients with reduced %pVO2, 61 (61%) had a normal anaerobic threshold: of these, 9(14.8%) had respiratory, 21(34.4%) cardiac, and 31(50.8%) non-cardiopulmonary reasons for exercise limitation. Inerestingly, 80% of patients experienced at least one disabling symtpom, not related to %pVO2 or functional capacity. Multivariate linear regression showed percent-predicted forced expiratory volume in one-second(β = 5.29,p = 0.023), percent-predicted diffusing capacity of lungs for carbon monoxide(β = 6.31,p = 0.001), and DLE maximal strength(β = 14.09,p = 0.008) to be independently associated with pVO2. No adverse event was reported during or after CPET, and no involved health professional developed COVID-19.

Conclusions: At three months after discharge, about 1/3rd of COVID-19 survivors show functional limitations, mainly explained by muscular impairment, calling for future research to identify patients at higher risk of long-term effects that may benefit from careful surveillance and targeted rehabilitation.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cardiopulmonary exercise testing; Coronavirus; Coronavirus infection; Lung diseases; Severe acute respiratory syndrome.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Echocardiography
  • Exercise Test*
  • Exercise Tolerance
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • SARS-CoV-2