Dyspnoea is not a prominent complaint of resting patients with recent hemispheric stroke (RHS). We hypothesized that, in patients with RHS presenting abnormalities in respiratory mechanics, increased respiratory motor output could translate into an increased perception of dyspnoea. We studied eight wheelchair-bound patients with RHS (mean age 62.4 years), previously evaluated by computerized tomography scanning, and a control group of normal subjects, matched for age and sex. We assessed routine spirometry, inspiratory and expiratory muscle pressures, breathing pattern and dyspnoea using a modified Borg scale. In six patients, we also measured oesophageal pressure during the maximal sniff manoeuvre and tidal inspiratory swing, and mechanical characteristics of the lung in terms of dynamic elastance during both quiet breathing and a hypercapnic/hyperoxic rebreathing test. During room air breathing, ventilation and tidal volume were similar in patients and controls, while tidal inspiratory swings of oesophageal pressure, an index of inspiratory motor output, were greater in patients (P = 0.005). Patients also exhibited a greater dynamic elastance (P = 0.013). During rebreathing, dynamic elastance remained higher (P = 0.01) and a greater than normal inspiratory motor output was found (P = 0.03). Responses of ventilation and tidal volume to carbon dioxide tension were normal, and in all patients but one a lower Borg score for the unit change in carbon dioxide tension and ventilation was found. In conclusion, a higher than normal inspiratory motor output was unexpectedly associated with a blunted perception of dyspnoea in this subset of RHS patients. This is likely to be due to the modulation of the integration process of respiratory sensation.

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