We measured the breathing pattern of normal subjects, asymptomatic smokers, asymptomatic and symptomatic asthmatic patients, and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, restrictive lung disease, primary pulmonary hypertension and anxiety state utilizing respiratory inductive plethysmography. Respiratory rate was increased above the normal in smokers and in patients with COPD, restrictive lung disease and pulmonary hypertension, but remained normal in asthmatic patients. Inspiratory times (T1) of one second or less often occurred in patients with COPD, restrictive lung disease, and pulmonary hypertension. Smokers and patients with symptomatic asthma, COPD, restrictive lung disease and pulmonary hypertension showed heightened respiratory center drive as reflected by elevated mean inspiratory flow (VT/TI). Fractional inspiratory time was reduced to a variable extent in smokers, symptomatic asthmatic patients and patients with COPD, and was a weak indicator of airways obstruction. Patients with COPD often had major fluctuations of expiratory timing, periodic fluctuations of end-expiratory level, and asynchrony between rib cage and abdominal movements. Chronic anxiety was characterized by frequent sighs; episodic rapid rates alternating with apneas were less common. We conclude that analysis of breathing patterns provides diagnostic discrimination among normal subjects and disease states.