The connection between chronic obstructive pulmonary disease symptoms and hyperinflation and its impact on exercise and function

Am J Med. 2006 Oct;119(10 Suppl 1):21-31. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.08.004.


Forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) has served as an important diagnostic measurement of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) but has not been found to correlate with patient-centered outcomes such as exercise tolerance, dyspnea, or health-related quality of life. It has not helped us understand why some patients with severe FEV1 impairment have better exercise tolerance compared with others with similar FEV1 values. Hyperinflation, or air trapping caused by expiratory flow limitation, causes operational lung volumes to increase and even approach the total lung capacity (TLC) during exercise. Some study findings suggest that a dyspnea limit is reached when the end-inspiratory lung volume encroaches within approximately 500 mL of TLC. The resulting limitation in daily physical activity establishes a cycle of decline that includes physical deconditioning (elevated blood lactic acid levels at lower levels of exercise) and worsening dyspnea. Hyperinflation is reduced by long-acting bronchodilators that reduce airways resistance. The deflation of the lungs, in turn, results in an increased inspiratory capacity. For example, the once-daily anticholinergic bronchodilator tiotropium increases inspiratory capacity, 6-minute walk distance, and cycle exercise endurance time, and it decreases isotime fatigue or dyspnea. Pulmonary rehabilitation and oxygen therapy both reduce ventilatory requirements and improve breathing efficiency, thereby reducing hyperinflation and improving exertional dyspnea. Thus, hyperinflation is directly associated with patient-centered outcomes such as dyspnea and exercise limitation. Furthermore, therapeutic interventions--including pharmacotherapy and lung volume--reduction surgery--that reduce hyperinflation improve these outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Bronchodilator Agents / pharmacology
  • Dyspnea / drug therapy
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Tolerance* / drug effects
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Inspiratory Capacity* / drug effects
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / surgery
  • Quality of Life*
  • Scopolamine Derivatives / administration & dosage
  • Scopolamine Derivatives / pharmacology
  • Tiotropium Bromide


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Scopolamine Derivatives
  • Tiotropium Bromide