Aims: The peripheral chemoreflex may be augmented in chronic heart failure and may play a role in its pathophysiology including the mediation of exercise hyperpnoea and sympathetic activation. The objective of this study was to characterize the patients with an augmented peripheral chemoreflex.
Methods and results: Peripheral chemoreflex sensitivity was assessed by measuring the ventilatory response to hypoxia using transient inhalations of pure nitrogen in 50 patients with chronic heart failure (age 58.7 +/- 12.1 (SD) years; radionuclide left ventricular ejection fraction 26.5 +/- 13.0%). The peripheral chemoreflex of 12 healthy controls with similar demographic characteristics was 0.272 +/- 0.201l.min-1.%Sao(2)-1 compared with 0.673 +/- 0.410l. min-1.%Sao(2)-1 (P < 0.0001) in the chronic heart failure patients. Using 2 standard deviations above the mean level of the controls peripheral chemoreflex sensitivity as the upper limit of normal, we defined an augmented chemoreflex as greater than 0.6751.min-1.%Sao(2)-1. Twenty of the chronic heart failure patients (40%) demonstrated such an augmented peripheral chemoreflex. Compared with patients with peripheral chemoreflex sensitivity within the normal range, they had a reduced peak oxygen consumption during cardiopulmonary exercise (15.1 +/- 4.4 vs 18.5 +/- 5.8 ml.kg-1.min-1, P = 0.02), reduced radionuclide left ventricular ejection fraction (21.8 +/- 11.8 vs 29.4 +/- 13.1%, P = 0.046) and were in a worse New York Heart Association functional class (2.8 vs 2.4, P = 0.05). The ventilatory response to exercise, as characterized by the regression slope relating minute ventilation to carbon dioxide output during exercise, was also higher (40.48 +/- 9.32 vs 34.54 +/- 7.19, P = 0.02), consistent with the role of the peripheral chemoreflex in mediating exercise hyperpnoea. There was also an increased proportion of patients with non-sustained ventricular tachycardia in the group with an augmented peripheral chemoreflex (61% vs 21%, chi-squared 7.08, P < 0.01). No difference was seen in the age, height, weight and lung function measurements of these patients compared with the normal chemoreflex group.
Conclusion: An augmented peripheral chemoreflex is a common finding in chronic heart failure patients, one associated with increasing severity and with the exercise hyperpnoea seen in the condition. That there was an excess of patients with non-sustained ventricular tachycardia in the group with an augmented peripheral chemoreflex may be related to the chemoreflex-driven sympathetic stimulation. The peripheral chemoreflex may be important in the pathophysiology of chronic heart failure, both in terms of symptoms and exercise limitation.