You heard that the Tour de France athletes have tried sleeping in sealed tents that simulate high altitudes (where the oxygen levels are lower); the goal was to improve their performance at normal elevations. As the body acclimatized to the hypoxic conditions, their mass of red blood cell increased. This was further augmented by ventilator changes, as manifested by increased tidal volume. Now, some cardiac specialists at the Montefiore Hospital (Bronx, NY) are trying that same technique to improve the performance of their patients.
With heart failure, the cardiac muscle is weakened; it can no longer pump blood effectively, which leads to shortness of breath in the patient. So, why would we try to have them in hypobaric environments? Dr. Simon Maybaum (who is patenting just such a chamber for cardiac patients, United States Patent Application 20090025726) believes it is just the poor blood flow, not the lack of oxygen, that affects the patient’s well being.
Dr. Maybaum is now leading a small study (15 patients) to determine if this approach works as well as he hopes. The study has chosen medicated patients with pacemakers who have limited activity (these are termed stable heart failure patients); they will be subjected to simulated altitudes of 1500 to 2700 meters. The treatment duration will start at about 1 hour and extend to three (3) hours over the course of the study.
It is hoped that the red blood cell levels will be increased (this is what happens with the athletes on this program), so the patients’ ability to transport oxygen will be augmented. Peak oxygen consumption levels will also be monitored; the normal patient level is under 15 ml/kg/min versus that of a bicyclist of some 45+ ml/kg/min. If the test works, the patients will use the tents at home (instead of the controlled hospital environment).