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COPD. 2007 Sep;4(3):225-36.

Dyspnea and activity limitation in COPD: mechanical factors.

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Division of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


Dyspnea and activity limitation are the primary symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and progress relentlessly as the disease advances. In COPD, dyspnea is multifactorial but abnormal dynamic ventilatory mechanics are believed to be important. Dynamic lung hyperinflation occurs during exercise in the majority of flow-limited patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and may have serious sensory and mechanical consequences. This proposition is supported by several studies, which have shown a close correlation between indices of dynamic lung hyperinflation and measures of both exertional dyspnea and exercise performance. The strength of this association has been further confirmed by studies that have therapeutically manipulated this dependent variable. Relief of exertional dyspnea and improved exercise endurance following bronchodilator therapy correlate well with reduced lung hyperinflation. The mechanisms by which dynamic lung hyperinflation give rise to exertional dyspnea and exercise intolerance are complex. However, recent mechanistic studies suggest that dynamic lung hyperinflation-induced volume restriction and consequent neuromechanical uncoupling of the respiratory system are key mechanisms. This review examines, in some detail, the derangements of ventilatory mechanics that are peculiar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and attempts to provide a mechanistic rationale for the attendant respiratory discomfort and activity limitation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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