Chronic refractory dyspnoea: Evidence based management

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australian Family Physician, 2013, 42 (3), pp. 137 - 140
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Background: Chronic refractory dyspnoea is defined as breathlessness daily for 3 months at rest or on minimal exertion where contributing causes have been treated maximally. Prevalent aetiologies include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, advanced cancer and interstitial lung diseases. Objective: To distil from the peer reviewed literature (literature search and guidelines) evidence that can guide the safe, symptomatic management of chronic refractory dyspnoea. Discussion: Dyspnoea is mostly multifactorial. Each reversible cause should be managed (Level 4 evidence). Non-pharmacological interventions include walking aids, breathing training and, in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary rehabilitation (Level 1 evidence). Regular, low dose, sustained release oral morphine (Level 1 evidence) titrated to effect (with regular aperients) is effective and safe. Oxygen therapy for patients who are not hypoxaemic is no more effective than medical air. If a therapeutic trial is indicated, any symptomatic benefit is likely within the first 72 hours.
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