The respiratory muscles in eucapnic obesity: their role in dyspnea

Respir Med. 2009 Sep;103(9):1276-85. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2009.03.023. Epub 2009 May 17.


Regular exercise appears to be one of the best predictors of successful weight maintenance. Although physical activity and exercise are important components in the prevention and treatment of obesity, many obese adults without coexisting disorders are unable to exercise due to dyspnea on exertion. As a result they may not participate in regular physical activity. Therefore exertional dyspnea in obese adults is also an obstacle to the prevention and treatment of obesity and coexisting comorbidities. The available data suggest that increased respiratory muscle force generation, and the concomitant increase in respiratory neural drive associated with increased ventilation are an important source of sensation of respiratory effort in obese subjects. Whether activity-related breathlessness is due to either abnormal respiratory mechanical factors (flow limitation and/or chest elastic loading) or the increased metabolic demand of locomotion in obesity, or both of these together, the available data indicate that intensity of dyspnea at any given ventilation and oxygen uptake does not increase in obese subjects as compared with normal weight control subjects. Does this mean that respiratory mechanical factors are unlikely to be contributory? Nonetheless, the component of metabolic cost of breathing may not be accounted for in the measured mechanical work of breathing because of the number of included complex variables. That a decrease in efficiency of the respiratory muscles during exercise contributes to dyspnea in hyperinflating obese subjects should not be disregarded.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dyspnea / etiology*
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Exercise Tolerance / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Prevalence
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiopathology*