The effect of chest wall vibration on dyspnea at rest was investigated in 15 patients with severe chronic respiratory diseases. The magnitude of their baseline dyspnea was 17.9 +/- SE 3.3 mm on a 150-mm visual analog scale. One hundred hertz out-of-phase vibration (OPV; inspiratory intercostal muscles vibrated during expiration and expiratory intercostal muscles vibrated during inspiration) increased dyspnea an average of 21.9 +/- SE 7.8 mm (p < 0.05). One hundred hertz in-phase vibration (IPV; inspiratory intercostal muscles vibrated during inspiration and expiratory intercostal muscles vibrated during expiration) decreased dyspnea an average of 6.9 +/- SE 2.8 mm (p < 0.05). Changes in the respiratory pattern and arterial blood gas determinations elicited by 5-min IPV were investigated in eight of the 15 patients. Tidal volume was significantly increased in all eight of these patients. Respiratory frequency was decreased in seven patients and increased in one. Functional residual capacity, measured before and during the application of IPV for a period of about 10 breaths, was increased in one patient and decreased in the remaining seven. PaCO2 decreased by 1.3 +/- 1.0 mm Hg (p < 0.05), from 49.6 +/- 8.4 mm Hg; PaO2 increased by 3.4 +/- 2.3 mm Hg (p < 0.05), from 67.7 +/- 12.7 mm Hg. The results indicate that in-phase chest wall vibration decreased pathologic dyspnea in patients with chronic respiratory disease and suggest that the effects on respiratory sensation are mediated by afferent information from chest wall respiratory muscles to supraspinal centers.