Dyspnea in a patient years after severe poliomyelitis: The role of cardiopulmonary exercise testing

K. Knobil, F. S. Becker, P. Harper, L. B. Graf, G. T. Wolf, F. J. Martinez*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Dyspnea after polio can occur for a variety of reasons, including neuromuscular disease and upper airway abnormalities resulting from prolonged intubation, including tracheal stenosis, tracheomalacia, and vocal cord paralysis. Routine studies such as spirometry and maximum voluntary ventilation (MVV) measurements can give similar results in these conditions. We present a 50-year-old woman who as a child developed poliomyelitis that required tracheostomy and negative pressure ventilation. Thirty-nine years later, she developed breathlessness with normal spirometry but decreased MVV. The flow volume loop showed flattening of the inspiratory and expiratory limbs, consistent with a fixed upper airway obstruction or neuromuscular weakness. Exercise testing with measurement of exercise flow volume loops and respiratory pressures was performed. The patient was ventilatory limited with increasing end-expiratory lung volume through exercise. Flow volume loops confirmed flow limitation. Respiratory pressures did not change after maximal exercise. Further evaluation confirmed left vocal cord paralysis and tracheomalacia. This patient demonstrates that the causes of dyspnea after poliomyelitis can be multifactorial, and that routine evaluation may fail to elucidate the limiting factor. In this case, exercise testing provided valuable insight into the limiting factor for this patient and provided useful data for counseling and for further management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)777-781
Number of pages5
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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