Study objectives: Although impairment of the diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (DLCO) in heart transplant recipients is well-documented, there are limited data on its impact on exercise capacity in these patients. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of DLCO reduction on exercise capacity in heart transplant recipients. Design: Descriptive cohort study. Setting: A regional cardiopulmonary transplant center. Participants: Twenty-six heart transplant recipients who were studied before and after transplantation compared with 26 healthy volunteers. Measurements: Spirometry and static lung volumes were measured using body plethysmography, DLCO was measured using the single-breath technique, and progressive cardiopulmonary exercise was performed using a bicycle ergometer, continuous transcutaneous blood gas monitoring, and on-line analysis of minute ventilation, oxygen uptake (Vo2), and carbon dioxide production. Results: Before transplantation, the mean percent predicted for hemoglobin-corrected DLCO was reduced in patients (73.2%) compared to healthy control subjects (98.8%; p < 0.001) and declined significantly after transplantation (60.1%; p < 0.05). Although the mean maximal symptom-limited Vo2 (Vo2max) increased after transplantation (increase, 41.3 to 48.6% of predicted; p < 0.05), it remained substantially lower than normal (92.9%; p < 0.001). There was a significant correlation between DLCO and Vo2max after transplantation (r = 0.61; p = 0.001), but not before transplantation (r = 0.09; p = 0.66). DLCO was also inversely correlated with other respiratory responses to exercise, including the following: The ventilatory response to exercise (r = -0.44; p < 0.05); dead space to tidal volume ratio (r = -43; p < 0.05); and the alveolur-arterial oxygen gradient (r = -0.45; p < 0.05), but there was no correlation between any of these variables and DLCO before transplantation. Conclusion: DLCO reduction after heart transplantation appears to represent persistent gas exchange impairment and contributes to exercise limitation in heart transplant recipients.
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