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Reduced pulmonary function in children with the Fontan circulation affects their exercise capacity

  • Iren Lindbak Matthews (a1), Per Morten Fredriksen (a2), Per G. Bjørnstad (a3), Erik Thaulow (a3) and Morten Gronn (a4)...


Most children with functionally univentricular hearts nowadays are treated surgically by creating a total cavopulmonary connection. In the resulting Fontan circulation, the venous return and the pulmonary arterial bed are coupled in series, bypassing the heart. This gives the potential for interaction between the abnormal circulation and function of the lungs. In this study, we investigated the pattern of impairment of pulmonary function, and its relation to decreased exercise capacity.

We performed spirometry in 33 (85 percent) of 39 eligible Norwegian children, aged from 8 to 16, with a total cavopulmonary connection, along with whole body plethysmography, the carbon monoxide single breath test, and a peak treadmill exercise test. The single breath test showed a mean corrected diffusing capacity of 66.5 percent of predicted, giving a z score of minus 2.88. The mean residual volume measured by whole body plethysmography was 146.8 percent, equivalent to a z score of 2.46, whereas the mean residual volume measured by the single breath test was 102.4 percent of predicted, this being the same as a z score of 0.43. The mean peak treadmill exercise test was 70.0 percent of predicted, equivalent with a z score of minus 3.07. Mean forced vital capacity was 85.7 percent of predicted, the equivalent z score being minus 0.92. Lung function correlated with the peak treadmill exercise test.

We have shown, therefore, that children with the Fontan circulation have reduced diffusing capacity, possibly caused by the abnormal circulation through the lungs. The difference between residual volume measured by plethysmography and the single breath test implies trapping of air. The correlation of parameters for lung function with peak consumption of oxygen during exercise indicates that the abnormalities of pulmonary function may affect physical capacity.


Corresponding author

Correspondence to: Iren Lindbak Matthews, Paediatric Pulmonology and Allergology Unit, Paediatrics Department, Rikshospitalet University Hospital, Sognsvannsveien 20, 0027 Oslo, Norway. Tel: +47 2307 4494; Fax: +47 2307 4510; E-mail:,


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