Limitations to the 6-minute walk test in interstitial lung disease and pulmonary hypertension in scleroderma

Margaret C Garin, Kristin B Highland, Richard M Silver, Charlie Strange
Journal of Rheumatology 2009, 36 (2): 330-6

OBJECTIVE: To determine factors that influence 6-minute walk distance (6MWD) in patients with scleroderma (systemic sclerosis, SSc)-interstitial lung disease (ILD), SSc-pulmonary hypertension (PH), and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

METHODS: We retrospectively evaluated all patients with SSc or IPF who performed a 6-minute walk test (6MWT) at a university hospital between 1999 and 2003. Chi-square, ANOVA, simple linear regression, and backwards elimination multivariable regressions were performed.

RESULTS: Forty-eight consecutive IPF patients with 6MWT were compared to 33 patients with SSc-ILD, 13 with SSc-PH, 19 with both SSc-ILD and SSc-PH (SSc-Both), and 15 with SSc without ILD or PH (SSc-Neither). Mean 6MWD did not differ between groups. Limitations to 6MWT trended toward dyspnea in IPF and lower extremity pain in SSc. SSc-Both had dyspnea limitation more than other SSc subgroups (p = 0.017). Percentage predicted forced vital capacity (FVC%) and percentage predicted carbon monoxide diffusing capacity (DLCO%) were more strongly predictive of 6MWD in IPF than in SSc; however, exclusion of SSc subjects with pain limitation improved the predictive value. Significant correlates of 6MWD in multivariable analysis differed between subgroups.

CONCLUSION: Pain limitations confound the utility of the 6MWT, particularly in SSc. Pain may cause failure to reach a dyspnea limitation during 6MWT, especially in SSc patients without both ILD and PH. Correlates of 6MWD differ between SSc subgroups and IPF; therefore, the 6MWT distance is not always reflective of the same physiological process. 6MWT interpretation should include consideration of vascular, pulmonary, and musculoskeletal exercise limitations.

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