Effects of resistive breathing on exercise capacity and diaphragm function in patients with ischaemic heart disease

G M Darnley, A C Gray, S J McClure, P Neary, M Petrie, J J McMurray, N G MacFarlane
European Journal of Heart Failure 1999, 1 (3): 297-300

BACKGROUND: Muscle weakness has been suggested to result from the deconditioning that accompanies decreased activity levels in chronic cardiopulmonary diseases. The benefits of standard exercise programmes on exercise capacity and muscular strength in disease and health are well documented and exercise capacity is a significant predictor of survival in patients with chronic heart failure (CHF). Selective respiratory muscle training has been shown to improve exercise tolerance in CHF and such observations have been cited to support the suggestion that respiratory muscle weakness contributes to a reduced exercise capacity (despite biopsies showing the metabolic profile of a well trained muscle).

AIMS: This study aimed to determine the effects of selective inspiratory muscle training on patients with chronic coronary artery disease to establish if an improved exercise capacity can be obtained in patients that are not limited in their daily activities.

METHODS: Nine male patients performed three exercise tests (with respiratory and diaphragm function assessed before the third test) then undertook a 4-week programme of inspiratory muscle training. Exercise tolerance, respiratory and diaphragmatic function were re-assessed after training.

RESULTS: Exercise capacity improved from 812+/-42 to 864+/-49 s, P<0.05, and velocity of diaphragm shortening increased (during quiet breathing from 12.8+/-1.6 to 19.4+/-1.1 mm s(-1), P<0.005, and sniffing from 71.9+/-9.4 to 110.0+/-12.3 mm s(-1), P<0.005). In addition, five from nine patients were stopped by breathlessness before training; whereas only one patient was stopped by breathlessness after training.

CONCLUSION: The major findings in this study were that a non-intensive 4-week training programme of resistive breathing in patients with chronic coronary artery disease led to an increase in exercise capacity and a decrease in dyspnoea when assessed by symptom limited exercise testing. These changes were associated with significant increases in the velocity of diaphragmatic excursions during quiet breathing and sniffing. Patients that exhibited small diaphragmatic excursions during quiet breathing were most likely to improve their exercise capacity after the training programme. However, the inspiratory muscle-training programme was not associated with any significant changes in respiratory mechanics when peak flow rate, forced expiratory volume and forced vital capacity were measured. The resistive breathing programme used here resulted in a significant increase in the velocity of diaphragm movement during quiet breathing and sniffing. In other skeletal muscles, speed of contraction can be determined by the relative proportion of fibre types and muscle length (Jones, Round, Skeletal Muscle in Health and Disease. Manchester: University Press, 1990). The intensity of the training programme used here, however, is unlikely to significantly alter muscle morphology or biochemistry. Short-term training studies have shown that there can be increases in strength and velocity of shortening that do not relate to changes in muscle biochemistry or morphology. These changes are attributed to the neural adaptations that occur early in training (Northridge et al., Br. Heart J. 1990; 64: 313-316). Independent of the mechanisms involved, this small, uncontrolled study suggests that inspiratory muscle training may improve exercise capacity, diaphragm function and symptoms of breathlessness in patients with chronic coronary artery disease even in the absence of heart failure.

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