What Limits Cardiac Performance during Exercise in Normal Subjects and in Healthy Fontan Patients?
Exercise is an important determinant of health but is significantly reduced in the patient with a univentricular circulation. Normal exercise physiology mandates an increase in pulmonary artery pressures which places an increased work demand on the right ventricle (RV). In a biventricular circulation with pathological increases in pulmonary vascular resistance and/or reductions in RV function, exercise-induced augmentation of cardiac output is limited. Left ventricular preload reserve is dependent upon flow through the pulmonary circulation and this requires adequate RV performance. In the Fontan patient, the reasons for exercise intolerance are complex. In those patients with myocardial dysfunction or other pathologies of the circulatory components, it is likely that these abnormalities serve as a limitation to cardiac performance during exercise. However, in the healthy Fontan patient, it may be the absence of a sub-pulmonary pump which limits normal increases in pulmonary pressures, trans-pulmonary flow requirements and cardiac output. If so, performance will be exquisitely dependent on pulmonary vascular resistance. This provides a potential explanation as to why pulmonary vasodilators may improve exercise tolerance. As has recently been demonstrated, these agents may offer an important new treatment strategy which directly addresses the physiological limitations in the Fontan patient