Early radiographic pneumoconiosis is associated with impaired exercise gas exchange among coal miners with normal resting spirometry

Sheiphali A. Gandhi*, Robert A. Cohen, Paul D. Blanc, Leonard H.T. Go

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationale: We sought to determine if radiographic pneumoconiosis predicts abnormal gas exchange during exercise in coal mine workers with preserved resting lung function. Methods: We analyzed data from former coal miners seen between 2006 and 2014 in a single clinic specializing in black lung evaluations. We limited the analysis to those with normal resting spirometry and an A-a gradient at peak exercise ≥10 mmHg. We used multivariable logistic regression to estimate predictors of A-a gradient widened to >150% of the reference value. We focused on chest radiographs consistent with pneumoconiosis, taking into account higher silica exposure mining activities and years underground, and adjusting for cigarette smoking, obesity, and coronary artery disease. Results: Of 5507 miners, we analyzed data for 742 subjects with normal spirometry and all key clinical variables available, of whom 372 (50.1%) had radiographic evidence of pneumoconiosis. All but 21 had small opacity profusion of less than 2/1. The median A-a gradient at peak exercise was 108% of reference value (interquartile range, 81%–141%). In the multivariable analysis, radiographic pneumoconiosis was associated with increased odds of widened A-a gradient (odds ratio [OR], 2.47; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.7–3.7). Limited to 660 subjects with normal diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide, the odds were similarly increased (OR, 3.20; 95% CI, 1.5–3.6). Discussion: Among coal miners with preserved resting lung function, radiographic evidence of early pneumoconiosis more than doubled the odds of abnormal exercise physiology. Impairment in pneumoconiosis occurs in early disease and may only be evident on exercise testing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-461
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • cardiopulmonary exercise
  • coal mine dust lung disease
  • coal mining
  • coal workers' pneumoconiosis
  • respirable dust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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