BACKGROUND--Although exercise induced desaturation can occur in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), little is known about its frequency during everyday exercise, or how it relates to dyspnoea or prior drug treatment. METHODS--The effects of 200 micrograms inhaled oxitropium bromide, an anticholinergic bronchodilator drug, on spirometric values, dyspnoea score, and oxygen saturation during corridor walking and cycle ergometry were studied in a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled study. RESULTS--Oxitropium produced a small increase in forced expired volume in one second (FEV1) from 0.76 (0.28) 1 to 0.93 (0.69) 1 and in six minute walking distance from 311 (93) m to 332 (86) m, but did not change progressive cycle exercise duration. Resting and end exercise breathlessness levels were reduced in both forms of exercise after oxitropium. Resting oxygen saturation fell significantly after active bronchodilator from 92.9% (3.7%) to 92.0% (4.1%) but the nadir saturation during exercise was unchanged. The patients desaturated more during corridor walking than cycle ergometry [walking 7.8% (4.4%), cycle ergometry 2.1% (2.1%)]. Baseline walking distance was related to FVC, resting breathlessness and resting oxygen saturation (multiple r2 = 0.46) but only resting saturation correlated with end exercise breathlessness (r2 = -0.25). Improvements in symptoms or exercise performance after oxitropium could not be predicted by changes in spirometric indices or oxygen saturation. CONCLUSIONS--In patients with COPD arterial oxygen desaturation during self-paced walking is common, of greater severity than that during cycle ergometry, but is unaffected by inhaled oxitropium bromide. The factors that predict initial performance are not appropriate markers of functional improvement after an active bronchodilator drug.
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