The heart and lungs are closely linked as they lie in series, share a common surface area and compete for space within the thoracic cavity. The heart and lungs are exposed to the similar changes in intrathoracic pressure, and reflexes within one organ can influence the other (i.e. vagal influence of lung inflation on heart rate). In patients with heart failure, these cardiopulmonary interactions may be altered due to decreased lung and left ventricular compliance, increased cardiac size, high cardiac filling pressure and altered receptor sensitivity to neural activation. Exercise further affects the cardiopulmonary interactions by stimulating an increase in the depth and frequency of breathing which accentuates the fluctuations in intrathoracic pressure, and by requiring large increases in stroke volume and heart rate in order to respond to the increased metabolic demand. Previous work from our laboratory suggested that patients with heart failure avoid high lung volumes during exercise, often at the expense of unnecessary large positive expiratory intrathoracic pressures resulting in significant wasted effort. Moreover, we also observed that voluntarily increases in lung volume in patients with heart failure induced a mild relative bradycardia, a response not observed in similar aged healthy individuals. Thus, we hypothesized that the rapid shallow low lung volume breathing, in combination with positive expiratory intrathoracic pressure, often adopted by patients with heart failure during exercise is an attempt to preserve, or even enhance, the cardiac response to exercise.
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