Cardiovascular differences between sedentary and wheelchair-trained subjects with paraplegia

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Heart dimensions, left ventricular function, and internal dimensions of limb arteries, as well as physical fitness, were examined in sedentary male subjects with paraplegia (SP, N = 20), national elite male athletes with paraplegia (PA, N = 29), and untrained able-bodied males (AB,N = 30).


All subjects underwent two-dimensional echocardiography, duplex sonography of common femoral artery and subclavian artery at rest, and an incremental wheelchair ergometer exercise test.


Heart volume in relation to body weight was not different in PA as compared with that in AB (11.5 ± 1.6 vs 11.6 ± 2.2 mL·kg-1; mean ± SD), whereas SP showed significantly lower values (9.7 ± 1.5 mL·kg-1). Left ventricular ejection fraction was similar in all subjects (59.9-60.8%). In relation to body surface area, subclavian artery cross-sectional area was significantly higher in PA compared with that in AB and SP, respectively (PA: 0.32 ± 0.05, AB: 0.21 ± 0.06, SP: 0.22± 0.05 cm2/m2). The corresponding values for the common femoral artery were significantly lower in all subjects with paraplegia as compared with those in AB, whereas no difference was found between PA and SP(AB: 0.31 ± 0.05, PA: 0.14 ± 0.04, SP: 0.15 ± 0.04 cm2/m2). Peak oxygen uptake (˙VO2peak) determined in the wheelchair ergometer exercise test was within the same range in PA and AB, but significantly (P < 0.05) lower in SP (PA: 34.5 ± 4.3, AB: 31.5 ± 4.1, SP: 23.9 ± 3.8 mL·kg-1·min-1).


In conclusion, cardiac dimensions and ˙VO2peak of PA were larger than in SP but do not exceed those of AB. Intensive wheelchair training was associated with larger dimensions of the subclavian arteries in PA, whereas a hypotrophy of the common femoral artery was found in SP and PA compared with that in AB.

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