Neural Processing of Respiratory Sensations when Breathing Becomes More Difficult and Unpleasant
The purpose of the study was to validate a bipolar visual analogue scale (VAS) to assess the perceived effect on shortness of breath of an acute inhalation and to search for differences in perception between asthmatics and subjects with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Thirty two subjects with airway obstruction and a diagnosis of either asthma (n = 16) or COPD (n = 16) received three consecutive inhalations of isotonic saline, followed by two inhalations of 400 micrograms terbutaline. Saline was perceived by asthmatics as a slight improvement: VAS (median, 95% confidence interval) 9%, 0-18% of line length. COPD subjects could be separated into two subgroups: "high perceivers" (n = 8, VAS 43%, 33-53%) and "low perceivers" (n = 8, VAS 5%, 3-7%). The median intrasubject coefficient of variation of the three post-saline VAS ratings was 19.4% (asthma), 12.5% (COPD high perceivers), and 14.5% (COPD low perceivers). After terbutaline, asthmatics had, by selection, a larger increase in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) than COPD subjects. However, for other indices (expiratory specific resistance, inspiratory vital capacity and maximal inspiratory flow at 50% forced vital capacity) the changes were smaller in COPD low perceivers than in both asthmatics and COPD high perceivers. The parallel improvement in VAS was 24%, 20-39% (asthma), 15%, 6-25% (COPD high perceivers) and 1%, -1-8% (COPD low perceivers). The most sensitive index was FEV1 in asthmatics, vital capacity in COPD subjects, VAS being among the most sensitive indices in the former, but among the least sensitive in the latter. We conclude that the sensitivity of this VAS to bronchodilation is better in asthmatics than in COPD subjects. The latter can however be separated into subgroups with high and low level of perception.