Objectives: To determine the prevalence of dyspnoea in older people at home, measure its impact on function and quality of life, and identify associated cardio-respiratory diseases.
Design: Cross-sectional population-based study.
Methods: We sent a modified Medical Research Council (MRC) dyspnoea questionnaire to identify breathlessness in 1404 randomly selected subjects from general practitioner lists of 5002 subjects aged 70 years and over living at home. We visited a further random sample of 500 of these subjects at home and at a study centre.
Setting: Community-based study in South Wales.
Main outcome measures: Prevalence of dyspnoea (MRC grades 3-5) and its effect on psychological and functional status, and quality of life as measured by Hospital Anxiety and Depression, Nottingham Extended Activities of Daily Living and SF-36 questionnaires.
Results: The prevalence of dyspnoea as defined was 32.3% (95% confidence intervals: 30.3, 34.3). Breathless subjects had poorer functional status than non-breathless subjects. They also had poorer physical and mental health and were more likely to be anxious and depressed. The prevalence of left ventricular systolic dysfunction, reversible airways disease and obesity were all higher in those with dyspnoea.
Conclusions: Dyspnoea is common in older people. Given its profound adverse effect on people's lives, dyspnoea is an important public health issue.