Exercise-induced hypoxemia in athletes: role of inadequate hyperventilation

S K Powers, D Martin, M Cicale, N Collop, D Huang, D Criswell
European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 1992, 65 (1): 37-42
These experiments examined the exercise-induced changes in pulmonary gas exchange in elite endurance athletes and tested the hypothesis that an inadequate hyperventilatory response might explain the large intersubject variability in arterial partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2) during heavy exercise in this population. Twelve highly trained endurance cyclists [maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max) range = 65-77] performed a normoxic graded exercise test on a cycle ergometer to VO2max at sea level. During incremental exercise at VO2max, 5 of the 12 subjects had ideal alveolar to arterial PO2 gradients (PA-aO2) of above 5 kPa (range 5-5.7) and a decline from resting PaO2 (delta PaO2) 2.4 kPa or above (range 2.4-2.7). In contrast, 4 subjects had a maximal exercise PA-aO2 of 4.0-4.3 kPa with delta PaO2 of 0.4-1.3 kPa while the remaining 3 subjects had PA-aO2 of 4.3-5 kPa with delta PaO2 between 1.7 and 2.0 kPa. The correlation between PAO2 and PaO2 at VO2max was 0.17. Further, the correlation between the ratio of ventilation to oxygen consumption vs PaO2 and arterial partial pressure of carbon dioxide vs PaO2 at VO2max was 0.17 and 0.34, respectively. These experiments demonstrate that heavy exercise results in significantly compromised pulmonary gas exchange in approximately 40% of the elite endurance athletes studied. These data do not support the hypothesis that the principal mechanism to explain this gas exchange failure is an inadequate hyperventilatory response.

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