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Are You Fluent in the Language of Dyspnea?

Donald A. Mahler, MD, FCCP; John C. Baird, PhD
Author and Funding Information

Correspondence to: Donald A. Mahler, MD, FCCP, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, One Medical Center Dr, Lebanon, NH 03756-0001; e-mail: Donald.a.mahler@hitchcock.org

Dr. Mahler is Professor of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School.

Dr. Baird is Adjunct Professor of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, and Scientific Director, Psychological Applications, LLC.


The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians (www.chestjournal.org/misc/reprints.shtml).


Chest. 2008;134(3):476-477. doi:10.1378/chest.08-1141
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Language is defined as a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.2 Learning a new language can be challenging, difficult, and fun. The process starts with a vocabulary of common objects and everyday activities. The goal is to achieve fluency in order to effectively communicate among ourselves.

Since breathing is an unconscious act, individuals only become aware of its existence when something is wrong. The experience of dyspnea is unfamiliar or foreign, thus making it difficult to describe “what this unusual experience feels like.” Nearly 20 years ago, Simon and colleagues3 developed a list of 19 statements based on reports of healthy subjects who had breathlessness induced by various respiratory stimuli. These descriptors provide a vocabulary to facilitate communication between patient and physician/investigator.

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