Should the 6-Minute Walk Test Be Stopped If Oxyhemoglobin Saturation Falls Below 80%?

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Objective: To examine the occurrence of adverse events in patients undergoing assessment for pulmonary rehabilitation when a 6-minute walk test (6MWT) continues despite desaturation below 80%. Design: Retrospective audit following REporting of studies Conducted using Observational Routinely-collected health Data (RECORD) Statement. Setting: Large teaching hospital. Participants: All patients (N=549) (55% men, mean age 69±11y) assessed for pulmonary rehabilitation (September 2005 to January 2016). Interventions: The standardized tests were conducted by experienced cardiorespiratory physiotherapists. Oxyhemoglobin saturation was monitored continuously using a pulse oximeter (lowest value used for analysis). Medical records were reviewed, and adverse events defined as tachycardia, bradycardia, chest pain, or other sign/symptom necessitating cessation. Main Outcome Measure: 6MWT. Results: Data from 672 walk tests were included with mean distance 369 (124) meters. The main diagnoses were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (70%), interstitial lung disease (14%), and bronchiectasis (8%). Sixty individuals (11%) recorded desaturation below 80% without adverse events. Two adverse events were recorded during tests without desaturation; in 1 instance, chest pain with no evidence of cardiorespiratory compromise and in another, the patient stopped due to concern regarding blood sugar levels (11.5 mmol/L when tested). Independent predictors of desaturation to less than 80% were resting oxyhemoglobin saturation <95% (odds ratio [OR] 3.82, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.06-7.08) and a diagnosis of interstitial lung disease or pulmonary arterial hypertension (OR 5.24, 95% CI 2.59-10.58). Conclusions: This study found that desaturation to less than 80% during a 6MWT was not associated with adverse events in a large cohort of patients referred to pulmonary rehabilitation and assessed by experienced physiotherapists, suggesting that test cessation due to desaturation in stable patients may be unwarranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2370-2372
Number of pages3
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Exercise test
  • Lung diseases
  • Pulmonary disease, chronic obstructive
  • Rehabilitation

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