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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2013 Apr;45(4):763-75. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2012.03.017. Epub 2012 Sep 25.

The evidence base for oxygen for chronic refractory breathlessness: issues, gaps, and a future work plan.

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Palliative Medicine, Hull York Medical School, University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom.


Breathlessness or "shortness of breath," medically termed dyspnea, is a common and distressing symptom featuring strongly in advanced lung, cardiac, and neuromuscular diseases; its prevalence and intensity increase as death approaches. However, despite the increasing understanding in the genesis of breathlessness, as well as an increasing portfolio of treatment options, breathlessness is still difficult to manage and engenders helplessness in caregivers and health care professionals and fear for patients. Although hypoxemia does not appear to be the dominant driver for breathlessness in advanced disease, the belief that oxygen is important for the relief of acute, chronic, and acute-on-chronic shortness of breath is firmly embedded in the minds of patients, caregivers, and health care professionals. This article presents current understanding of the use of oxygen for treating refractory breathlessness in advanced disease. The objective is to highlight what is still unknown, set a research agenda to resolve these questions, and highlight methodological issues for consideration in planned studies.

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