New research finds that treatments for breathlessness can reduce distress and symptoms of depression.

Breathlessness is a common symptom in advanced disease and can lead to panic and anxiety for patients and their family. It can trouble people even when resting or performing light activities around the home, researchers at King’s College London note.

“With our aging population and increasing multi-morbidity, the number of people affected by breathlessness worldwide is set to rise,” the researchers report.

Published in the journal Thorax, the study combined the findings of existing research to better understand holistic services for people with advanced disease experiencing breathlessness. These services aim to improve a person’s ability to manage their breathlessness by putting the person before their disease, researchers explained. They do this by providing information and education, psychological support, and encouraging self-management strategies that patients and their caregivers can continue to use, the researchers explained.

While there are no drug treatments for breathlessness, drug-free treatments such as breathing exercises or using a handheld fan have been found to be useful. These treatments and the philosophy of palliative care that focuses on quality of life are brought together in these holistic services, the researchers said.

During the study, researchers found that patients who accessed these services were less distressed and depressed due to breathlessness.

In interviews, people said they felt more in control and more confident in managing their breathlessness, were less isolated, and able to get back to their daily activities. Both patients and their caregivers, including family members, said they appreciated the tailored education that helped them understand their breathlessness better. They particularly valued the simple management tips and the expert staff who took a dignified approach to their care, the study discovered.

“By using breathlessness as a marker of disease burden, these services prompt input from experts across different specialties to manage symptoms and concerns using a person-centered approach,” said senior author Dr. Matthew Maddocks from King’s College London. “Our research uncovered the wide range of benefits and allows us to understand what patients and their family value most.”

“This work forms part of our program to tackle breathlessness,” added Professor Irene Higginson, director of the Cicely Saunders Institute at King’s College London and co-author of the research. “This is such a neglected and frightening symptom. Imagine if every breath you took caused panic and fear and you thought you could not breathe more.”

“These services contain straightforward, usually drug-free, approaches, such as information cards and plans to help at home in a crisis, practical aids and tips, as well as support for the whole person and family through palliative care,” she said.

Source: King’s College London