Background Silent/asymptomatic peripheral artery disease may occur in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but it is poorly investigated. The primary aim of this study was to evaluate in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients the impact of asymptomatic/silent peripheral artery disease on maximal exercise capacity; the secondary aim was to search for predictors of peripheral artery disease. Methods We prospectively enrolled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease outpatients. Data on anthropometric characteristics, lung function, cardiopulmonary exercise test and ankle-brachial index were recorded. The cut-off of ankle-brachial index used to define patients with peripheral artery disease was ≤0.90. Results We studied 47 patients and found 24 patients (51%) who showed peripheral artery disease. As compared to patients without peripheral artery disease, patients with peripheral artery disease had lower values of peak oxygen uptake, peak workload, energy expenditure (metabolic equivalents) and heart rate recovery, but showed the same degree of airflow obstruction and static and dynamic hyperinflation. In a multivariate linear regression model performed to identify variables predicting metabolic equivalents, ankle-brachial index (β 2.59; 95% confidence interval 0.51-4.67; p = 0.016) was an independent variable. In the search for predictors of peripheral artery disease, heart rate recovery (odds ratio 8.80; 95% confidence interval 1.30-59.35; p = 0.026) increased the risk of peripheral artery disease, whereas metabolic equivalents (odds ratio 0.50; 95% confidence interval 0.26-0.94, p = 0.033) and inhaled corticosteroids+long-acting β2 agonists (odds ratio 0.13; 95% confidence interval 0.02-0.83; p = 0.030) reduced this risk. Conclusions In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease outpatients, asymptomatic/silent peripheral artery disease affects the maximal exercise capacity regardless of airflow obstruction and lung hyperinflation. A delay of heart rate recovery increase the risk of peripheral artery disease, whereas high values of metabolic equivalents and the use of inhaled corticosteroids+long-acting β2 agonists reduces this risk.
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