Descriptors of dyspnea by patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease versus congestive heart failure

Heart Lung. 2004 Mar-Apr;33(2):102-10. doi: 10.1016/j.hrtlng.2003.11.004.


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to determine whether differences existed between reports of dyspnea in stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure (CHF) subjects.

Methods: Sixty stable COPD (n=30) and CHF (n=30) male, outpatient subjects were studied. Subjects were asked to both endorse (from a pre-designed list of descriptors) and volunteer terms that best described their breathing discomfort. Subjects also reported the frequency and the intensity of breathlessness (0-10 scale) using the Pulmonary Functional Status and Dyspnea Questionnaire.

Results: From the endorsed list of descriptors, my breath does not go out all the way, was significantly different (COPD=11, CHF=4, P<.05) between groups. The most common terms volunteered by COPD subjects were scary (n=5, P<.02), hard to breathe (n=5), shortness of breath (n=4), and cannot get enough air (n=4), whereas CHF subjects volunteered the terms, shortness of breath (n=9), gasping (n=6), and cannot get enough air (n=4). There was no difference in the frequency with which both groups experienced dyspnea or times per month they reported severe to very severe dyspnea. Subjects with COPD experienced a higher intensity of breathlessness on different occasions P<.05.

Conclusions: Stable COPD and CHF patients use and recognize a variety of terms that describe their breathing distress. There was, however, only 1 unique term among the endorsed and volunteered terms, and that was among the COPD subjects. COPD and CHF subjects shared many common terms and also experienced dyspnea with similar frequency. The uniqueness of terms among the COPD group was less clear. The study highlights the variability of the dyspnea experience among COPD and CHF patients and the potential difficulty identifying unique dyspnea terms in these subjects.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Dyspnea / physiopathology*
  • Dyspnea / psychology*
  • Heart Failure / complications*
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metaphor
  • Middle Aged
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Self-Assessment*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminology as Topic*