Impact of atrial fibrillation on exercise capacity in heart failure with preserved ejection fraction: a RELAX trial ancillary study

Rosita Zakeri, Barry A Borlaug, Steven E McNulty, Selma F Mohammed, Gregory D Lewis, Marc J Semigran, Anita Deswal, Martin LeWinter, Adrian F Hernandez, Eugene Braunwald, Margaret M Redfield
Circulation. Heart Failure 2014, 7 (1): 123-30

BACKGROUND: Atrial fibrillation (AF) is common among patients with heart failure and preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), but its clinical profile and impact on exercise capacity remain unclear. RELAX (Phosphodiesterase-5 Inhibition to Improve Clinical Status and Exercise Capacity in HFpEF) was a multicenter randomized trial testing the impact of sildenafil on peak VO2 in stable outpatients with chronic HFpEF. We sought to compare clinical features and exercise capacity among patients with HFpEF who were in sinus rhythm (SR) or AF.

METHODS AND RESULTS: RELAX enrolled 216 patients with HFpEF, of whom 79 (37%) were in AF, 124 (57%) in SR, and 13 in other rhythms. Participants underwent baseline cardiopulmonary exercise testing, echocardiogram, biomarker assessment, and rhythm status assessment before randomization. Patients with AF were older than those in SR but had similar symptom severity, comorbidities, and renal function. β-blocker use and chronotropic indices were also similar. Despite comparable left ventricular size and mass, AF was associated with worse systolic (lower EF, stroke volume, and cardiac index) and diastolic (shorter deceleration time and larger left atria) function compared with SR. Pulmonary artery systolic pressure was higher in AF. Patients with AF had higher N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide, aldosterone, endothelin-1, troponin I, and C-telopeptide for type I collagen levels, suggesting more severe neurohumoral activation, myocyte necrosis, and fibrosis. Peak VO2 was lower in AF, even after adjustment for age, sex, and chronotropic response, and VE/VCO2 was higher.

CONCLUSIONS: AF identifies an HFpEF cohort with more advanced disease and significantly reduced exercise capacity. These data suggest that evaluation of the impact of different rate or rhythm control strategies on exercise tolerance in patients with HFpEF and AF is warranted.

CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION: URL: Unique identifier: NCT00763867.

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