Differing Approaches to Managing the Chronic Breathlessness Syndrome in Advanced COPD: A Multi-National Survey of Specialists

Natasha Smallwood, David Currow, Sara Booth, Anna Spathis, Louis Irving, Jennifer Philip

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


This study explored the approaches of respiratory and palliative medicine specialists to managing the chronic breathlessness syndrome in patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A voluntary, online survey was emailed to all specialists and trainees in respiratory medicine in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), and to all palliative medicine specialists and trainees in ANZ and the United Kingdom (UK). Five hundred and seventy-seven (33.0%) responses were received from 1,749 specialists, with 440 (25.2%) complete questionnaires included from 177 respiratory and 263 palliative medicine doctors. Palliative medicine doctors in ANZ and the UK had similar approaches to managing chronic breathlessness, whereas respiratory and palliative medicine doctors had significantly different approaches (p < 0.0001). Both specialties most commonly recommended a combination of non-pharmacological and pharmacological breathlessness management strategies. Respiratory doctors focussed more on pulmonary rehabilitation, whereas palliative medicine doctors recommended breathing techniques, anxiety management and the handheld fan. Palliative medicine doctors (197 (74.9%)) recommended short acting oral morphine for breathlessness, as compared with 73 (41.2%) respiratory doctors (p < 0.0001). Respiratory doctors cited opioid concerns related to respiratory depression and lack of knowledge. Nineteen (10.7%) respiratory doctors made no specific recommendations for managing chronic breathlessness. Both specialties reported actively managing chronic breathlessness, albeit with differing approaches. Integrated services, which combine the complementary knowledge and approaches of both specialities, may overcome current gaps in care and improve the management of distressing, chronic breathlessness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-302
Number of pages9
JournalCOPD: Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • breathlessness
  • COPD
  • health professionals
  • opioids
  • palliation
  • professional attitudes
  • survey


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