Chapter 26. Respiratory Symptoms

John D Buckley, MD, MPH, FCCP
DOI: 10.1378/pulm.26.26
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  • Recognize and characterize respiratory symptoms encountered by pulmonologists.

  • Describe the physiologic and disease mechanisms of respiratory symptoms.

  • Outline diagnostic approaches to specific respiratory symptoms including cough, dyspnea, chest pain, wheezing, and hemoptysis.

  • Describe relative importance of respiratory symptoms in identifying their underlying cause.

  • Interpret respiratory symptoms in the context of other clinical data.


Symptoms related to respiratory diseases are among the most common reasons for which patients seek outpatient medical attention. Unfortunately, most respiratory symptoms lack diagnostic specificity. However, understanding known epidemiology and pattern recognition can help establish an accurate clinical diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that cough led all specified principal reasons for visit, ahead of prenatal examinations, well-baby visits, back pain, hypertension, and diabetes. Supporting these findings are diagnostic codes used by physicians in the United States during 2008 identifying diseases of the respiratory system as accounting for 10.9% of outpatient visits, more than any other organ system.


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