Perception of dyspnea in patients with neuromuscular disease

Chest. 2001 Aug;120(2):402-8. doi: 10.1378/chest.120.2.402.


Background: The perception of dyspnea is not a prominent complaint of resting patients with neuromuscular disease (NMD). To our knowledge, no study has been addressed at evaluating the interrelationships among lung mechanics, respiratory motor output, and the perception of dyspnea in patients with NMD receiving ventilatory stimulation.

Material: Eleven patients with NMD (mean +/- SD age, 44 +/- 11.8 years; 5 men) of different etiology and a group of normal subjects matched for age and sex (control subjects).

Methods: While patients were breathing room air, lung volumes, arterial blood gases, the pattern of breathing (minute ventilation [E], tidal volume [VT], respiratory frequency, inspiratory time), and maximal (less negative) esophageal pressure during a sniff maneuver (Pessn), as an index of inspiratory muscle strength, were measured. Then we evaluated the response to hypercapnic-hyperoxic stimulation (hypercapnic-hyperoxic rebreathing test [RT]) in terms of breathing pattern, inspiratory swing of pleural pressure (Pessw), and inspiratory effort (Pessw[%Pessn]). During the RT, dyspnea was assessed every 30 s using a modified Borg scale (0 to 10).

Results: Pulmonary volumes were reduced in seven patients, and PCO(2) was out of proportion to E in four patients. Group Pessn was 42.8 +/- 23.6 cm H(2)O in patients and 107 +/- 20.4 cm H(2)O in control subjects (p < 0.001). Dynamic elastance (Eldyn) [p = 0.0016] and Pessw(%Pessn) [p < 0.0005] were higher in patients. During the RT, Borg/CO(2), Pessw(%Pessn)/CO(2), and Borg/Pessw(%Pessn) were similar in the two groups, while E/CO(2) and VT/CO(2) were lower in patients (p < 0.0002 for both). As a consequence, for unit change in VT (percentage of predicted vital capacity [%VC]), greater changes in Pessw(%Pessn) were associated with greater Borg scores in patients. Baseline Eldyn related to Pessw(%Pessn)/VT(%VC) during hypercapnia (r(2) = 0.85), an index of neuroventilatory coupling of the ventilatory pump (NVC). NVC predicted a good amount of the variability in Borg/E (r(2) = 0.46, p < 0.02).

Conclusions: In this subset of NMD patients during hypercapnic stimulation, a normal inspiratory motor output per unit change in PCO(2) results in a shallow breathing pattern. The consequent impairment of NVC underlies the higher scoring of dyspnea in these patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Dyspnea / diagnosis
  • Dyspnea / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Volume Measurements
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Oxygen / analysis
  • Perception
  • Vital Capacity


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen