Study objectives: Pulmonary hypertension is the most important complication in patients with atrial septal defect (ASD), but its role in limiting exercise has not been examined. This study sought to evaluate exercise performance in adults with ASD and determine the contribution of elevated pulmonary artery pressure in limiting exercise capacity.
Design: We used Doppler echocardiography during exercise in 10 adults (aged 34 to 70 years) with isolated ASD (New York Heart Association class I, II) and an equal number of matched control subjects. Incremental exercise was performed on an electrically braked upright cycle ergometer. Expired gases and VE were measured breath-by-breath. Two-dimensional and Doppler echocardiographic images were obtained at rest prior to exercise to determine ASD size, stroke volume (SV), shunt ratio (Qp:Qs), right ventricular outflow tract (RVOT) size, and right ventricular systolic pressure at rest (RVSPr). Doppler echocardiography was repeated at peak exercise to measure right ventricular systolic pressure during exercise (RVSPex).
Results: Resting echocardiography revealed that RVOT was larger (21±4 vs 35±8 mm, mean±SD; p=0.0009) and RVSPr tended to be higher (17±8 vs 31±8 mm Hg; p=0.08) in ASD; however, left ventricular SV was not different (64±23 vs 58±23 mL; p>0.05), compared with control subjects. Despite normal resting left ventricular function, ASD patients had a significant reduction in maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) (22.9±5.4 vs 17.3±4.2 mL/kg/min; p=0.005). RVSPex was higher (19±8 vs 51±10 mm Hg; p=0.001) and the mean RVSP-VO2 slope (1±2 vs 18±3 mm Hg/L/min; p=0.003) and intercept (17±4 vs 27±4 mm Hg; p=0.05) were higher in the ASD group. VO2max correlated inversely with both RVSPr (r=−0.69; p=0.007) and RVSPex (r=−0.67; p=0.01).
Conclusion: These findings suggest that adults with ASD have reduced exercise performance, which may be associated with an abnormal increase in pulmonary artery pressure during exercise.