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July 7, 1978

Denotation of Dyspnea

Author Affiliations

University of Dayton Dayton, Ohio

JAMA. 1978;240(1):21-22. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03290010025008

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To the Editor.—  In a letter published recently in The Journal (239:928, 1978) E. D. Morton, MD, asks what dyspnea means and whether it refers to a subjective symptom or an objective sign. Since etymological or historical arguments showing what a word ought to mean are out of style, the answers to these questions should be sought through observation of the word in use.A review of numerous current textbooks, medical dictionaries, and other reference works shows that dyspnea is all but universally understood as a subjective experience. The term is variously defined as labored breathing, difficult breathing, shortness of breath, uncomfortable awareness of one's breathing, a feeling of suffocation, a consciousness of the need for more respiratory effort than seems called for by the level of activity, and a feeling of inability to draw a full breath.The fact that dyspnea can be inferred by an observer from such