Exercise Testing in Heart Failure: A Critical Review

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Exercise intolerance is one of the primary characteristics of chronic congestive heart failure (CHF). Therefore, exercise testing has been widely used in the assessment of CHF patients, both to define the severity of the disease and to assess the efficacy of pharmaceutical agents in clinical trials. A number of different exercise tests can be used, although maximal exercise testing is the most common. Maximal exercise capacity can be determined by measuring exercise duration during incremental exercise, or maximal oxygen (O2) consumption, or it can be estimated by anaerobic threshold.

While baseline exercise testing in CHF patients accurately identifies and quantifies cardiac failure and determines prognosis, it is of limited value in assessing changes that occur as a result of drug therapy. A key drawback of exercise testing as a measurement of drug effect is the fact that exercise changes produced by drug intervention do not correlate well with changes in the mortality rate. Several examples of the lack of correlation between exercise testing and mortality rates have been observed in clinical trials with angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and vasodilators. ACE inhibitors have a modest effect on maximal exercise capacity but they improve survival. It is thought that neuroendocrine activation more closely reflects mortality rates and also the changes in survival observed with pharmacological intervention compared with other modes of evaluation.

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