Cardiopulmonary exercise testing in younger patients with persistent dyspnea following acute, outpatient COVID-19 infection

Aaron B. Holley*, Kimberly D. Fabyan, Zachary A. Haynes, Arthur W. Holtzclaw, Nikhil A. Huprikar, John N. Shumar, Phorum S. Sheth, Stephanie L. Hightower

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies using cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET) to evaluate persistent dyspnea following infection with COVID-19 have focused on older patients with co-morbid diseases who are post-hospitalization. Less attention has been given to younger patients with post-COVID-19 dyspnea treated as outpatients for their acute infection. We sought to determine causes of persistent dyspnea in younger patients recovering from acute COVID-19 infection that did not require hospitalization. We collected data on all post-COVID-19 patients who underwent CPET in our clinic in the calendar year 2021. Data on cardiac function and respiratory response were abstracted, and diagnoses were assigned using established criteria. CPET data on 45 patients (238.3 ± 124 days post-test positivity) with a median age of 27.0 (22.0–40.0) were available for analysis. All but two (95.6%) were active-duty service members. The group showed substantial loss of aerobic capacity—average VO2 peak (L/min) was 84.2 ± 23% predicted and 25 (55.2%) were below the threshold for normal. Spirometry, diffusion capacity, high-resolution computed tomography, and echocardiogram were largely normal and were not correlated with VO2peak. The two most common contributors to dyspnea and exercise limitation following comprehensive evaluation were deconditioning and dysfunctional breathing (DB). Younger active-duty military patients with persistent dyspnea following outpatient COVID-19 infection show a substantial reduction in aerobic capacity that is not driven by structural cardiopulmonary disease. Deconditioning and DB breathing are common contributors to their exercise limitation. The chronicity and severity of symptoms accompanied by DB could be consistent with an underlying myopathy in some patients, a disorder that cannot be differentiated from deconditioning using non-invasive CPET.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15934
JournalPhysiological Reports
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • CPET
  • PASC
  • dyspnea


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