European Journal of Applied Physiology: Unexplained exertional intolerance associated with impaired systemic oxygen extraction by Kathryn H. Melamed, Mário Santos, Rudolf K. F. Oliveira, Mariana Faria Urbina, Donna Felsenstein, Alexander R. Opotowsky, Aaron B. Waxman, David M. Systrom Abstract Purpose The clinical investigation of exertional intolerance generally focuses on cardiopulmonary diseases, while peripheral factors are often overlooked. We hypothesize that a subset of patients exists whose predominant exercise limitation is due to abnormal systemic oxygen extraction (SOE). Methods We reviewed invasive cardiopulmonary exercise test (iCPET) results of 313 consecutive patients presenting with unexplained exertional intolerance. An exercise limit due to poor SOE was defined as peak exercise (Ca-vO2)/[Hb] ≤ 0.8 and VO2max < 80% predicted in the absence of a cardiac or pulmonary mechanical limit. Those with peak (Ca-vO2)/[Hb] > 0.8, VO2max ≥ 80%, and no cardiac or pulmonary limit were considered otherwise normal. The otherwise normal group was divided into hyperventilators (HV) and normals (NL). Hyperventilation was defined as peak PaCO2 < [1.5 × HCO3 + 6]. Results Prevalence of impaired SOE as the sole cause of exertional intolerance was 12.5% (32/257). At peak exercise, poor SOE and HV had less acidemic arterial blood compared to NL (pHa = 7.39 ± 0.05 vs. 7.38 ± 0.05 vs. 7.32 ± 0.02, p < 0.001), which was explained by relative hypocapnia (PaCO2 = 29.9 ± 5.4 mmHg vs. 31.6 ± 5.4 vs. 37.5 ± 3.4, p < 0.001). For a subset of poor SOE, this relative alkalemia, also seen in mixed venous blood, was associated with a normal PvO2nadir (28 ± 2 mmHg vs. 26 ± 4, p = 0.627) but increased SvO2 at peak exercise (44.1 ± 5.2% vs. 31.4 ± 7.0, p < 0.001). Conclusions We identified a cohort of patients whose exercise limitation is due only to systemic oxygen extraction, due to either an intrinsic abnormality of skeletal muscle mitochondrion, limb muscle microcirculatory dysregulation, or hyperventilation and left shift the oxyhemoglobin dissociation curve.