Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Polycythemia, a common complication of hypoxic COPD, may affect systemic vascular function by altering blood viscosity, vessel wall shear stress (WSS), and endothelium-derived nitric oxide (NO) release. Here, we evaluated the effects of hypoxia-related polycythemia on systemic endothelial function in patients with COPD. We investigated blood viscosity, WSS, and endothelial function in 15 polycythemic and 13 normocythemic patients with COPD of equal severity, by recording brachial artery diameter variations in response to hyperemia and by using venous occlusion plethysmography (VOP) to measure forearm blood flow (FBF) responses to a brachial artery infusion of acetylcholine (Ach), bradykinin (BK), sodium nitroprusside (SNP), substance P (SP), isoptin, and N-monomethyl-L-arginine (L-NMMA). At baseline, polycythemic patients had higher blood viscosity and larger brachial artery diameter than normocythemic patients but similar calculated WSS. Flow-mediated brachial artery vasodilation was increased in the polycythemic patients, in proportion to the hemoglobin levels. Acetylcholine-induced vasodilation was markedly impaired in the polycythemic patients and negatively correlated with hemoglobin levels. FBF responses to endothelium- (BK, SP) and nonendothelium-dependent (SNP, isoptin) vasodilators were not significantly different between the two groups. L-NMMA infusion induced a similar vasoconstrictor response in both groups, in accordance with their similar baseline WSS. In conclusion, systemic arteries in polycythemic patients adjust appropriately to chronic or acute WSS elevations by appropriate basal and stimulated NO release. Overall, our results suggest that moderate polycythemia has no adverse effect on vascular function in COPD.
- Copyright © 2010, Journal of Applied Physiology