A study was designed to assess the accuracy and reproducibility of rebreathing and single breath soluble gas uptake measurements of effective pulmonary blood flow (Q) in patients with airways obstruction. Both rebreathing (RB) and single breath (SB) estimates of Q were compared with direct Fick and thermodilution (TD) measurements of cardiac output at rest and during exercise in eight patients with chronic, poorly reversible airflow obstruction with mean FEV1 65% predicted and mean FEV1/FVC 53%. The mean (SD) resting values obtained were QRB 3.47 (0.46), QSB 4.75 (1.15), QFick 4.77 (0.97), and QTD 5.15 (0.98). QRB was significantly lower than the other three estimates, which did not differ significantly from each other. Exercise produced significant increases in all four estimates for the group. The mean exercise values were QRB 6.23 (1.19), QSB 7.62 (1.97), QFick 8.97 (1.96), and QTD 9.09 (1.00), both QRB and QSB being significantly less than QFick and QTD. Analysis of variance of the rest, exercise, and combined data showed highly significant relationships with the TD and Fick measurements for both QRB and QSB over the range of values studied. In addition, the reproducibility of QRB and QSB was assessed in 15 other patients with chronic airflow obstruction (mean FEV1 42% predicted, FEV1/FVC 43%) and in 10 normal subjects. The coefficients of intrasubject variability for a single measurement for QRB were 8.7% in normal subjects and 10.2% in patients and for QSB were 11.7% in normal subjects and 16.1% in patients. The group differences from morning to afternoon, between days, and over a month were not significant in the normal subjects. In the patients QRB was slightly higher in the afternoon than in the morning of the same day, but the differences between days and over a month were not significant for either test. Although both tests detected the increase in pulmonary blood flow during exercise, the single breath test was more accurate at rest. Some underestimation was present for rebreathing at rest and for both tests during exercise, but this can be allowed for. In patients with mild airflow obstruction the reproducibility of the soluble gas uptake methods was similar to that of invasive catheter methods of cardiac output estimation. The single breath test in particular was, however, less reproducible in patients with more severe airflow obstruction, and the rebreathing method may be more useful for detecting increases in pulmonary blood flow in these patients.
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