Functional electrical stimulation of lower limb muscles is an alternative method of training in patients with chronic heart failure (CHF). Although it improves exercise capacity in CHF, we performed a randomised, placebo-controlled study to investigate its effects on long-term clinical outcomes.Methods
We randomly assigned 120 patients, aged 71 ± 8 years, with stable CHF (New York Heart Association (NYHA) class II/III (63%/37%), mean left ventricular ejection fraction 28 ± 5%), to either a 6-week functional electrical stimulation training programme or placebo. Patients were followed for up to 19 months for death and/or hospitalisation due to CHF decompensation.Results
At baseline, there were no significant differences in demographic parameters, CHF severity and medications between groups. During a median follow-up of 383 days, 14 patients died (11 cardiac, three non-cardiac deaths), while 40 patients were hospitalised for CHF decompensation. Mortality did not differ between groups (log rank test P = 0.680), while the heart failure-related hospitalisation rate was significantly lower in the functional electrical stimulation group (hazard ratio (HR) 0.40, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.21–0.78, P = 0.007). The latter difference remained significant after adjustment for prognostic factors: age, gender, baseline NYHA class and left ventricular ejection fraction (HR 0.22, 95% CI 0.10–0.46, P < 0.001). Compared to placebo, functional electrical stimulation training was associated with a lower occurrence of the composite endpoint (death or heart failure-related hospitalisation) after adjustment for the above-mentioned prognostic factors (HR 0.21, 95% CI 0.103–0.435, P < 0.001). However, that effect was mostly driven by the favourable change in hospitalisation rates.Conclusions
In CHF patients, 6 weeks functional electrical stimulation training reduced the risk of heart failure-related hospitalisations, without affecting the mortality rate. The beneficial long-term effects of this alternative method of training require further investigation.