Cardiopulmonary tests

What is it?

Cardiopulmonary tests measure, in relation to exertion, oxygen consumption and anaerobic threshold (values often reduced among patients with major cardiovascular disease). These tests evaluate the cardiopulmonary condition and help to exclude other aggravating reasons. They can also be replaced with the six-minute walking test, a simple test that measures the maximum distance walked within 6 minutes.

When is this exam indicated?

The cardiopulmonary test is a complement to the traditional exercise test, the so-called exercise electrocardiogram. It provides an overall picture of the patient's physiological condition. However, this test exceeds the traditional stress test since, by means of the latter it is possible to verify the electrocardiographic behavior of the patient under stress, with the cardiopulmonary test it is also possible to evaluate the metabolic aspect. This test is mainly used in cases of cardiopathic and/or bronchopneumopathic patients. In particular, it is addressed to three types of patients. The first type concerns ischemic heart patients for whom it is necessary to verify the coronary reserve. For example, patients who have undergone coronary artery bypass surgery, for whom the evaluation of the test serves to check the possible presence of residual stress ischemia. The other type concerns the cardiopathic and/or chronic bronchitis patient undergoing a rehabilitation program. Finally, it is addressed to patients with more or less severe chronic heart failure. In fact, it is currently considered a fundamental test in the evaluation of the cardiac patient as a candidate for cardiac transplantation.

How is it performed?

The equipment consists of an ergometer, an electrocardiograph with the standard 12 leads, a pneumotachograph (used to measure pulmonary ventilation) combined with a gas meter (oxygen and carbon dioxide), all monitored by the software. The patient is connected to this equipment by means of a mouthpiece equipped with a breath detector. This instrument transmits, analyzing breath by breath, the trend of oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production. The equipment allows to build a diagram formed by a series of curves that illustrates the metabolism of the person.


There are no real contraindications other than the inability of the patient to perform the required physical effort. Sometimes it may happen that having to breathe through the tube is discomforting to the patient and there is a need for a few minutes of getting used to it before carrying out the actual examination, thus allowing the patient to understand how the examination is carried out.

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