Background and aims: Dyspnea may signal serious disease with increased morbidity/mortality. Dyspnea screening would only be valid if reproducible. The study aim was to determine the reliability (reproducibility) of assessing dyspnea through a simple questionnaire among a rural population.
Methods: Participants were recruited from a Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study in Araihazar, Bangladesh. Dyspnea assessment used a questionnaire among 129 participants at two time points: at baseline and after 2 weeks to 9 months by trained physicians. All subjects were asked about the presence/absence of dyspnea in the last 6 months. At the second interview, a physician (blinded to questionnaire) conducted a clinical heart/lung examination and obtained a pulse oximeter reading.
Results: Dyspnea prevalence by baseline questionnaire was 2.4%. Overall dyspnea reliability was 94% (121 out of 129). If the initial response was 'yes' for the presence of dyspnea, reliability was 91% (49 out of 54). For an initial response of 'no' for the presence of dyspnea, reliability was 96% (72 out of 75). The pulmonary examination and pulse oximeter readings were significantly more likely to be abnormal in those with dyspnea (P < 0.01).
Conclusions: The reliability of a simple question on dyspnea is very high when obtained by physicians. Although validity was not the primary outcome, the increased likelihood of an abnormal chest examination or low pulse oximeter saturation for those reporting 'yes' to the dyspnea question suggests more significant underlying cardiopulmonary disease in those reporting recent dyspnea.