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Mahler DA, Weinberg DH, Wells CK, Feinstein AR. The measurement of dyspnea. Contents, interobserver agreement, and physiologic correlates of two new clinical indexes. Chest 1984; 85:751-8.


To improve the clinical measurement of dyspnea, we developed a baseline dyspnea indexthat rated the severity of dyspnea at a single state and a transition dyspnea index that denoted changes from that baseline. The scores in both indexes depend on ratings for three different categories: functional impairment; magnitude of task, and magnitude of effort. At the baseline state, dyspnea was rated in five grades from 0 (severe) to 4 (unimpaired) for each category. The ratings for each of the three categories were added to form a baseline focal score (range, 0 to 12). At the transition period, changes in dyspnea were rated by seven grades, ranging from -3 (major deterioration), to +3 (major improvement). The ratings for each of the three categories were added to form a transition focal score (range, -9 to +9). In 38 patients tested with respiratory disease, interobserver agreement was highly satisfactory for both indexes. The baseline focal score had the highest correlation (r = 0.60; P less than 0.001) with the 12-minute walking distance (12 MW), while significant, but lower, correlations existed for lung function. For the transition focal score, there was a significant correlation only with the 12 MW (r = 0.33; p = 0.04). These results indicate that dyspnea can receive a direct clinical rating that provides important information not disclosed by customary physiologic tests.


Mahler DA, Wells CK. Evaluation of clinical methods for rating dyspnea. Chest 1988 ;93:580-6.


To evaluate available clinical methods (self ratings and questionnaire) for rating dyspnea, we (1) compared scores from the recently developedbaseline dyspnea index (BDI)with the Medical Research Council (MRC) scale and the oxygen-cost diagram (OCD) in 153 patients with various respiratory diseases who sought medical care for shortness of breath; and (2) evaluated the relationships between dyspnea scores and standard measures of physiologic lung function in the same patients. The dyspnea scores were all significantly correlated (r = 0.48 to 0.70; p less than 0.001). Agreement between two observers or with repeated use was satisfactory with all three clinical rating methods. The BDI showed the highest correlations with physiologic measurements. Dyspnea scores were most highly related to spirometric values (r = 0.78; p less than 0.001) for patients with asthma, maximal respiratory pressures (r = 0.34 and 0.35; p less than 0.001) for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and PImax (r = 0.51; p = 0.01) and FVC (r = 0.44; p = 0.03) for those with interstitial lung disease. These results show that: (1) the BDI, MRC scale, and OCD provide significantly related measures of dyspnea; (2) the clinical ratings of dyspnea correlate significantly with physiologic parameters of lung function; and (3) breathlessness may be related to the pathophysiology of the specific respiratory disease. The clinical rating of dyspnea may provide quantitative information complementary to measurements of lung function.