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Submaximal exercise testing in the assessment of interstitial lung disease secondary to systemic sclerosis: reproducibility and correlations of the 6-min walk test


Background: The 6-min walk test (6MWT) is increasingly used as an outcome measure in interstitial lung disease (ILD).

Aim: To evaluate the usefulness of the 6MWT in a cohort of patients with ILD secondary to systemic sclerosis (SSc) and to correlate with established physiological parameters.

Methods: 163 patients with SSc-ILD were recruited for a multicentre, randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Available data at protocol screening included repeated 6MWTs, pulmonary function testing with diffusing capacity, Doppler echocardiography and high-resolution computed tomography of the thorax. Borg Dyspnoea Index was evaluated before and after 6MWT.

Results: Mean (standard deviation (SD)) distance walked during walk test 1 was 396.6 (84.55) m compared with 399.5 (86.28) m at walk test 2. The within-subject, intertest correlation as determined by Pearson’s correlation coefficient testing was 0.95 (p<0.001). However, only weak correlations of 6MWT with percentage forced vital capacity and the Borg Dyspnoea Index were observed, and no correlation was observed with percentage diffusing capacity.

Conclusion: These data confirm the high reproducibility of the 6MWT in patients with SSc-ILD and therefore the validity of the test in this cohort. The lack of correlation of 6MWT with standard physiological parameters of ILD suggests a multifactorial basis for limited exercise capacity in patients with SSc and calls into question the utility of the 6MWT as a measure of outcome in future studies on SSc-ILD.

  • 6MWT, six-min walk test
  • DLCO, single-breath diffusing capacity
  • FVC, forced vital capacity
  • HRCT, high-resolution computed tomography
  • IIP, idiopathic interstitial pneumonia
  • ILD, interstitial lung disease
  • OMERACT, outcome measures in rheumatological clinical trials
  • PAH, pulmonary arterial hypertension
  • SSc, systemic sclerosis

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