How to Assess Breathlessness in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Lewthwaite H; Jensen D; Ekström M;

International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis] 2021 Jun 03; Vol. 16, pp. 1581-1598. Date of Electronic Publication: 2021 Jun 03 (Print Publication: 2021).

Activity-related breathlessness is the most problematic symptom of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arising from complex interactions between peripheral pathophysiology (both pulmonary and non-pulmonary) and central perceptual processing. To capture information on the breathlessness experienced by people with COPD, many different instruments exist, which vary in applicability depending on the purpose and context of assessment. We reviewed common breathlessness assessment instruments, providing recommendations around how to assess the severity of, or change in, breathlessness in people with COPD in daily life or in response to exercise provocation. A summary of 14 instruments for the assessment of breathlessness severity in daily life is presented, with 11/14 (79%) instruments having established minimal clinically importance differences (MCIDs) to assess and interpret breathlessness change. Instruments varied in their scope of assessment (functional impact of breathlessness or the severity of breathlessness during different activities, focal periods, or alongside other common COPD symptoms), dimensions of breathlessness assessed (uni-/multidimensional), rating scale properties and intended method of administration (self-administered versus interviewer led). Assessing breathlessness in response to an acute exercise provocation overcomes some limitations of daily life assessment, such as recall bias and lack of standardized exertional stimulus. To assess the severity of breathlessness in response to an acute exercise provocation, unidimensional or multidimensional instruments are available. Borg’s 0-10 category rating scale is the most widely used instrument and has estimates for a MCID during exercise. When assessing the severity of breathlessness during exercise, measures should be taken at a standardized submaximal point, whether during laboratory-based tests like cardiopulmonary exercise testing or field-based tests, such as the 3-min constant rate stair stepping or shuttle walking tests. Recommendations are provided around which instruments to use for breathlessness assessment in daily life and in relation to exertion in people with COPD.