To evaluate available clinical methods (self ratings and questionnaire) for rating dyspnea, we (1) compared scores from the recently developed baseline 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.