Study objectives: To evaluate cardiac autonomic modulation in patients with COPD during peak exercise.
Methods: Fifty-three patients with COPD (mean FEV1, 35% predicted [SD, 11% predicted]; mean Pao2, 68 mm Hg [SD, 11 mm Hg]; mean Paco2, 40 mm Hg [SD, 7 mm Hg]; mean age, 61 years [SD, 10 years]; 26 women and 27 men) and 14 healthy control subjects aged 60 years (SD, 8 years) [seven women and seven men] were studied at rest and during ramped bicycle ergometry to their volitional peak. Patients were not receiving autonomic medications other than inhaled β-agonist agents and/or anticholinergic agents. Control subjects were not receiving any medications. Cardiac autonomic modulation was assessed via time-frequency analysis (Wigner-Ville) of ECG-derived heart rate variability as the power in the low-frequency (LF) band (ie, 0.04 to 0.15 Hz) and the high-frequency (HF) band (ie, > 0.15 to 0.4 Hz) averaged from > 3 min at rest and minutes 2 through 5 of their exercise period.
Results: Patients with COPD had a significantly increased mean, ln-transformed HF band from rest to peak exercise (9.9 ms2 [SD, 1.4 ms2] vs 10.7 ms2 [SD, 1.4 ms2], respectively; p < 0.01), while the HF band was unchanged for the control group (10.7 ms2 [SD, 1.5 ms2] vs 10.4 ms2 [1.3 ms2], respectively; difference not significant). The mean ln-transformed LF band was significantly increased from rest to peak exercise in patients with COPD (10.9 ms2 [SD, 1.5 ms2] vs 11.5 ms2 [SD, 1.4 ms2], respectively; p < 0.01) and in control subjects (10.9 ms2 [SD, 1.5 ms2] vs 11.5 ms2 [SD, 1.3 ms2], respectively; p < 0.01). The mean LF/HF ratio was significantly decreased from rest to peak exercise in patients with COPD (3.1 [SD, 1.5] vs 2.5 [SD, 1.0], respectively; p < 0.01) and was increased in control subjects (1.9 [SD, 0.8] vs 2.4 [1.0], respectively; p < 0.01). When expressed in normalized units ([absolute power of the components]/[total power − very low frequency power] × 100), the HF band was again significantly greater during peak exercise than at rest in the patients with COPD and was unchanged during peak exercise for the control group. Autonomic changes were not significantly correlated with age, gender, body mass index, spirometry, lung volumes, resting gas exchange, or oxygen saturation during exercise
Conclusion: These data suggest that, in contrast to control subjects, the balance of sympathetic to parasympathetic cardiac modulation decreases in patients with COPD during maximal volitional exercise.