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Pathophysiology of exercise dyspnea in healthy subjects and in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

, : Pathophysiology of exercise dyspnea in healthy subjects and in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Respiratory Medicine 99(11): 1403-1412

In patients with a number of cardio-respiratory disorders, breathlessness is the most common symptom limiting exercise capacity. Increased respiratory effort is frequently the chosen descriptor cluster both in normal subjects and in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) during exercise. The body of evidence indicates that dyspnea may be due to a central perception of an overall increase in central respiratory motor output directed preferentially to the rib cage muscles. On the other hand, the disparity between respiratory motor output and mechanical response of the system is also thought to play an important role in the increased perception of exercise in patients. The expiratory muscles also contribute to exercise dyspnea: a decrease in Borg scores is related to a decrease in end-expiratory lung volume and to a decrease in end-expiratory gastric pressure at isowork after lung volume reduction surgery. Changes in respiratory mechanics and intrathoracic pressure surrounding the heart can reduce cardiac output by affecting the return of blood to the heart from the periphery, or by interfering with the ability of the heart to eject blood into the peripheral circulation. Change in arterial blood gas content may affect breathlessness via direct or indirect effects. Old and more recent data have demonstrated that hypercapnia makes an independent contribution to breathlessness. In hypercapnic COPD patients an increase in PaCO2 seems to be the most important stimulus overriding all other inputs for dyspnea. Hypoxia may act indirectly by increasing ventilation (VE), and directly, independent of change in VE. Finally, chemical (metabolic) ventilatory stimuli do not have a specific effect on breathlessness other than via their stimulation of VE. We conclude that exercise provides a stimulus contributing to dyspnea, which can be applied to many diseases.


PMID: 16210095

DOI: 10.1016/j.rmed.2005.03.005

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