Objectives: The purpose of this study was to assess whether there is deterioration of aerobic capacity over time after the Fontan operation in individual patients.
Background: We previously observed that maximal aerobic capacity after the Fontan operation was lower in older patients than in younger patients. It was unclear whether this represented a decrease in aerobic capacity with time after operation or was a function of studying patients of different ages at different times postoperatively.
Methods: All patients who had more than one postoperative exercise study were included. There were 25 patients (19 male, 6 female), aged 3.8 to 39 years at the time of the operation. The first exercise test was performed, on average, 2.2 years after the Fontan operation, and the last exercise test was performed, on average, 5.9 years (range 1.8 to 13) after the operation. In 11 patients, coronary sinus drainage was left on the pulmonary venous side. Five patients had had a previous Glenn operation. Exercise was performed to exhaustion with use of a 3-min incremental cycle protocol.
Results: Exercise duration, oxygen uptake, blood pressure, respiratory rate, minute ventilation, pulmonary blood flow index, exercise factor, ST-T wave changes and the prevalence of arrhythmias were similar during the first and last tests. Exercise systemic arterial blood oxygen saturation decreased from the first to the last postoperative test (p < 0.006) regardless of age. The percent of predicted heart rate, at rest and during maximal exercise, decreased more in older patients from the first to the last test (p < 0.05 for rest and exercise).
Conclusions: In this select group of patients, exercise tolerance remained relatively unchanged over the range of 13 years after the Fontan operation. Heart rate at rest and during maximal exercise decreased more than predicted for age in older patients. A small but significant progressive decrease in systemic arterial blood oxygen saturation was found. The former might represent abnormal sinus node function in patients with functional single ventricle, and the latter might represent a tendency toward development of abnormal ventilation/perfusion patterns resulting from the development of small pulmonary arteriovenous fistulas or an effect of position of the coronary sinus postoperatively.