To determine the prevalence of respiratory symptoms in subjects with chronic spinal cord injury (SCI), 180 subjects completed a standard respiratory questionnaire modified for subjects with limited mobility. Subjects were categorized as high tetraplegia (HT:C5 and above not requiring mechanical ventilation), low tetraplegia (LT: C6-8), high paraplegia (HP: T1-7), or low paraplegia (LP: T8-L3). Overall, 68% of subjects reported one or more respiratory symptom. Breathlessness, the most prevalent complaint, was associated with level of lesion: HT = 73%, LT = 58%, HP = 43% and LP = 29%, whereas complaints of cough, phlegm, cough and phlegm, and wheeze did not differ significantly among subjects in the four groups. Breathlessness occurred significantly more often in the group with HT during rest or following exposure to hot air or passive smoke. Awareness of phlegm or wheeze was reported with increased prevalence among subjects with tetraplegia who had complete injuries. Among subjects with tetraplegia, respiratory complaints did not differ significantly in current smokers, former smokers, and non-smokers, whereas among subjects with paraplegia, phlegm and wheeze were reported more frequently, among current smokers.
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