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Exercising with Chronic Lung Disease: Using the Dyspnea Scale

The Dyspnea Scale measures shortness of breath. While you exercise, think about how short of breath you feel. Be aware of how hard you are working to breathe. Then pick the number and words on the scale that best shows how you feel at that moment. If your shortness of breath is very slight, you’re at level 1. If you feel severely short of breath, you’re at level 5. If you can’t breathe at all, you’re at level 10. Use this scale to help pace your workout. Try to keep your effort level around 3 to 5 on the scale, unless you are advised otherwise.

Signs of overexertion

Stop if you have any of the signs below during exercise. If you’re at the pulmonary rehab facility, tell a team member how you’re feeling. If you’re exercising on your own, call your pulmonary rehab team. Or call your healthcare provider. Watch for these signs:

  • Abnormal or increasing shortness of breath

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Burning, tightness, heaviness, or pressure in your chest

  • Abnormal pain in your shoulders, arm, neck, jaw, or back

  • A fast or skipping heartbeat

  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseated

  • Feeling much more tired than normal

  • Abnormal joint pain

Dyspnea Scale adapted by permission from American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, 2004, Guidelines for Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Programs, 4th ed. (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics), 81.

Checking your heart rate

You may be told to check your heart rate during exercise. Press 2 fingers (not your thumb) on the inside of your wrist. Count the number of beats you feel for 10 seconds. Multiply the number of beats by 6. This is your heart rate (the number of times your heart beats each minute). You’ll be told what the rate should be when you exercise. This number is your target heart rate.

My target heart rate: ___________________

Online Medical Reviewer: Alan J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Wanda Taylor RN PhD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2018
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