Management of refractory dyspnoea:evidence-based interventions

The Cancer Council Australia
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Cancer Forum, 2010, 0, 34 (2), pp. 86 - 90
Issue Date:
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Breathlessness is a common and distressing symptom in both malignant and non-malignant conditions. Both pharmacological and non-pharmacological strategies are necessary to minimise symptom burden and distress. Assessing the individualâs needs and clarifying the goals of treatment is an important first step in determining an effective treatment plan. Although the evidence supporting the use of some of these therapies is variable, there is an increasing evidence base to inform clinical decision making and treatment plans. Pharmacotherapy with opioids is a common and effective strategy for managing breathlessness, yet requires judicious titration and management. The adverse effects of opioid therapy, including constipation and drowsiness, can be anticipated and managed with adjunctive therapies. The use of oxygen in people who are hypoxaemic is supported, but is of limited value in people who are not hypoxaemic. Individualised strategies and advance care planning is important to avoid unnecessary hospitalisations and futile treatments at the end of life. There is a clear mismatch between the prevalence and burden of this problem and data to inform evidence-based guidelines. Refractory breathlessness is a fertile area for ongoing research and requires increased attention to address the burden of this highly prevalent symptom.
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