American Review of Respiratory Disease

Various theories about the genesis of dyspnea have often assumed that the sensation is similar from patient to patient and is generated by a single underlying mechanism. To investigate whether breathlessness induced in normal volunteers by different stimuli represents one or more than one sensation, we studied 30 subjects in whom breathlessness was induced by each of 8 different stimuli: breathholding, CO2 inhalation, inhalation of CO2 with ventilation voluntarily targeted below the level dictated by chemical drive, breathing with a resistive load, breathing with an elastic load, voluntary elevation of functional residual capacity, voluntary limitation of tidal volume, and exercise. For each stimulus, subjects were asked to choose descriptions of their sensation(s) of breathlessness from a questionnaire listing 19 descriptors. The responses from this questionnaire were evaluated using cluster analysis to search for relationships among descriptors and to identify natural groupings. We found that distinct groups of descriptors emerged, i.e., subjects could distinguish different sensations of breathlessness. In addition, we found an association between certain descriptor groups and stimuli. We conclude that the term breathlessness may encompass multiple sensations, and, therefore, may not be explainable by a single physiologic mechanism.


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