Dyspnoea is an uncomfortable conscious awareness of breathing. Since the late 1980s, studies on the language used to describe the sensation of breathlessness have emerged in order to understand mechanisms and differences between chronic diseases. This systematic review aimed to consider primary studies of the language of breathlessness in order to describe the evolution of this field, methodological approaches, key findings and, identify areas which require further investigation. A systematic search process was used to identify thirty-five primary studies. This field of study has evolved rapidly over the past eighteen years. Descriptions of the sensation of breathlessness have been acquired by subjects either selecting a descriptor statement from a pre-existing list (endorsed) or describing the sensation in their own words (volunteered). Three common inventories have been used by the majority of studies to obtain qualitative descriptors of breathlessness. Studies have generally focused upon on physical descriptors of the sensation, though the need for similar studies in the affective domain has been acknowledged. Clear associations between descriptions of breathlessness and medical conditions have been reported, though consistency between studies is equivocal. Further investigations are required to confirm the consistency of the language of breathlessness within people with the same medical conditions, reliability between occasions of assessment (subject in the same state of breathlessness), consistency between recalled descriptions and reality of the experience, changes in the qualitative sensation of breathless over the natural history of chronic diseases, impact of interventions of the sensation of breathlessness, and differences between adults and children.




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