Six minute corridor walk test as an outcome measure for the assessment of treatment in randomized, blinded intervention trials of chronic heart failure: a systematic review

Lars G Olsson, Karl Swedberg, Andrew L Clark, Klaus K Witte, John G F Cleland
European Heart Journal 2005, 26 (8): 778-93

AIMS: The 6 min walk test (6MWT) is commonly used in clinical trials to assess treatments for heart failure, but its ability to distinguish between effective and ineffective treatments is questionable. The aim of this study is to investigate, using a systematic literature review, the utility of the 6MWT as a measure of the effectiveness of treatment in randomized controlled trials of heart failure.

METHODS AND RESULTS: A literature search was performed using Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL, and Biological abstracts for randomized controlled trials that measured 6MWT between 1988 and 31 May 2004. A significant increase in 6MWT distance was observed in only 9 of 47 randomized controlled trials of pharmacological therapy; 2 of 6 trials of ACE-inhibitors; 3 of 17 trials of beta-blockers; 1 of 4 trials of digoxin; one trial of ibopamine; one trial of l-arginine; one trial of beriberine; and one trial showed superiority of captopril over flosequinan. A significant increase in 6MWT was observed in four out of six placebo-controlled trials of cardiac resynchronization. Smaller pharmacological trials with fewer centres were more likely to be positive; six out of nine positive pharmacological trials had four or less participating centres, raising the possibility of publication bias. Pharmacological trials including patients with more severe heart failure were more likely to show a significant improvement with therapy than trials of milder heart failure. Five out of seven pharmacological trials that reported an improvement in symptoms also reported an improvement in 6MWT distance. Of 30 pharmacological trials, 29 that reported no improvement in symptoms also reported no improvement in 6MWT. Using mean values in these trials, the age of patients appeared a more important determinant of 6MWT distance than New York Heart Association classification.

CONCLUSION: The 6MWT has not yet been proven to be a robust test for the identification of effective pharmacological interventions although it appears useful for the assessment of cardiac resynchronization therapy. The results of the 6MWT were concordant with changes in symptoms, suggesting that it may be used as supportive evidence for symptom benefit. The test may be of greater value in patients with more advanced heart failure, where it may function as a maximal exercise test.

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