In heart failure both functional capacity and prognosis are primarily determined by the degree of pump dysfunction. Although data on haemodynamic function at rest may indicate impaired cardiac function, they do not assess the capacity of the heart to respond to stress. Maximal bicycle ergometry and incremental intravenous inotropic stimulation in 31 patients with moderately severe heart failure were evaluated as methods of stressing the heart to determine cardiac pumping capability, which is defined as the cardiac power obtained during maximal stimulation. There was good agreement between the cardiac pumping capabilities assessed by these two methods. Maximal cardiac power output was better than maximal cardiac output and left ventricular stroke work index in representing cardiac pumping capability, because it was less dependent on the type of stimulation used during evaluation. Inotropic challenge is at least as effective as exercise testing in assessing cardiac pumping capability in heart failure, and may be a better method in patients who find physical exercise difficult.
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