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Wien Med Wochenschr. 2009 Dec;159(23-24):583-90. doi: 10.1007/s10354-009-0727-z.

Management of dyspnea in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center (DUMC), Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


A progressive and debilitating illness, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has major worldwide impact. In addition to the care for underlying causes of disease, COPD treatment involves palliative intervention to address associated symptoms; in later stages of disease, when the underlying disease has been maximally treated, symptom management assumes primacy as the goal of care. Dyspnea is the most distressing symptom experienced by COPD patients. When dyspnea cannot be relieved by traditional COPD management strategies (i.e., "refractory dyspnea"), the goal of care shifts from prolonged survival to minimized symptoms, improved function, and enhanced quality of life. Numerous pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions are available to achieve these goals, but supporting evidence is variable. This review summarizes options for managing refractory dyspnea in COPD patients, referring to the available evidence and highlighting areas for further investigation. Topics include oxygen, opioids, psychotropic drugs, inhaled frusemide, Heliox28, nutrition, psychosocial support, and breathing techniques.

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