The language of breathlessness differentiates between patients with COPD and age-matched adults

Chest. 2008 Sep;134(3):489-496. doi: 10.1378/chest.07-2916. Epub 2008 May 19.


Background: If descriptors of the sensation of breathlessness are able to differentiate between medical conditions, the language of breathlessness could potentially have a role in differential diagnosis. This study investigated whether the language used to describe the sensation of breathlessness accurately categorized older individuals with and without a prior diagnosis of COPD.

Methods: Using a parallel-group design, participants with and without a prior diagnosis of COPD volunteered words and phrases and endorsed up to three statements to describe their sensation of breathlessness. Cluster analysis (v-fold cross-validation) was applied, and subjects were clustered by their choice of words. Cluster membership was then compared to original group membership (COPD vs non-COPD), and predictive power was assessed.

Results: Groups were similar for age and gender (COPD, n = 94; 48 men; mean age, 70 +/- 10 years [+/- SD]; vs non-COPD, n = 55; 21 men; mean age, 69 +/- 13 years) but differed significantly in breathlessness-related impairment, intensity, and quality of life (p < 0.0001). Cluster membership corresponded accurately with original group classifications (volunteered, 85%; and up to three statements, 68% agreement). Classification based on a single best descriptor (volunteered [62%] or endorsed [55%]) was less accurate for group membership.

Conclusions: Language used to describe the sensation of breathlessness differentiated people with and without a prior diagnosis of COPD when descriptors were not limited to a single best word or statement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Communication
  • Dyspnea / classification*
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Dyspnea / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhalation / physiology
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / psychology
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiopathology
  • Terminology as Topic