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Curr Opin Crit Care. 2019 Feb;25(1):86-94. doi: 10.1097/MCC.0000000000000574.

Detection and management of dyspnea in mechanically ventilated patients.

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Sorbonne Université, INSERM, UMRS1158 Neurophysiologie Respiratoire Expérimentale et Clinique.
AP-HP, Groupe Hospitalier Pitié-Salpêtrière Charles Foix, Service de Pneumologie Medecine Intensive Réanimation du Département R3S, Paris, France.



In ICU patients, dyspnea is one of the most prominent and distressing symptom. We sought to summarize current data on the prevalence and prognostic influence of dyspnea in the ICU setting and to provide concise and useful information for dyspnea detection and management.


As opposed to pain, dyspnea has been a neglected symptom with regard to detection and management. Many factors contribute to the pathogenesis of dyspnea. Among them, ventilator settings seem to play a major role. Dyspnea affects half of mechanically ventilated patient and causes immediate intense suffering [median dyspnea visual analog scale of 5 (4-7)]. In addition, it is associated with delayed extubation and with an increased risk of intubation and mortality in those receiving noninvasive ventilation. However, one-third of critically ill patients are noncommunicative, and therefore, at high risk of misdiagnosis. Heteroevaluation scales based on physical and behavioral signs of respiratory discomfort are reliable and promising alternatives to self-report.


Dyspnea is frequent and severe in critically ill patients. Implementation of observational scale will help physicians to access to noncommunicative patient's respiratory suffering and tailor its treatment. Further studies on the prognostic impact and management strategies are needed.

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