Objectives: This study sought to establish the chemosensitivity of patients with chronic heart failure.
Background: The ventilatory response to exercise is often increased in patients with chronic heart failure, as characterized by the steeper regression slope relating minute ventilation to carbon dioxide output. We hypothesized that the sensitivity of chemoreceptors may be reset and may in part mediate the exercise hyperpnea seen in this condition.
Methods: Hypoxic and peripheral hypercapnic chemosensitivity were studied in 38 patients with chronic heart failure (35 men, 3 women; mean [+/-SE] age 60.2 +/- 1.3 years; radionuclide left ventricular ejection fraction 25.7 +/- 2.3%) and 15 healthy control subjects (11 men, 4 women; mean age 54.9 +/- 3.0 years) using transient inhalations of pure nitrogen and single breaths of 13% carbon dioxide, respectively. The change in chemosensitivity during mild exercise (25 W) was assessed in the first 15 patients and all control subjects. Central hypercapnic chemosensitivity was also characterized in 25 patients and 10 control subjects by the rebreathing of 7% carbon dioxide in 93% oxygen. Cardiopulmonary exercise testing was performed in all subjects.
Results: Maximal oxygen consumption was 16.6 +/- 0.9 versus 29.7 +/- 2.2 mol/kg per min (p < 0.0001), and the ventilation-carbon dioxide output regression slope was 37.2 +/- 1.5 versus 26.5 +/- 1.4 (p < 0.0001) in patients and control subjects, respectively. Hypoxic and central hypercapnic chemosensitivity were enhanced in patients (0.707 +/- 0.076 vs. 0.293 +/- 0.056 liters/min per % arterial oxygen saturation [SaO2], p = 0.0001 and 3.15 +/- 0.41 vs. 2.02 +/- 0.25 liters/min per mm Hg, p = 0.025, respectively) and correlated significantly with the ventilatory response to exercise. Hypoxic chemosensitivity was augmented during exercise in patients and in control subjects but remained higher in the former (1.530 +/- 0.27 vs. 0.685 +/- 0.12 liters/min per %SaO2, p = 0.01). The peripheral hypercapnic chemosensitivity of patients at rest and during exercise was similar to that in control subjects, consistent with its lesser contribution to overall carbon dioxide chemosensitivity.
Conclusions: Enhanced hypoxic and central hypercapnic chemosensitivity may play a role in mediating the increased ventilatory response to exercise in chronic heart failure.