Morphine for the relief of breathlessness in patients with chronic heart failure--a pilot study

Eur J Heart Fail. 2002 Dec;4(6):753-6. doi: 10.1016/s1388-9842(02)00158-7.


Background: Chronic heart failure (CHF) patients can experience significant breathlessness despite maximum medication for their heart failure. Morphine has long been used to relieve symptoms in acute failure, but there is little evidence about this potentially useful palliative therapy in CHF.

Aims: To determine the efficacy of morphine for the relief of breathlessness in patients with CHF.

Method: Ten out-patients with NYHA III/IV CHF entered a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled, crossover pilot study. The active arm was 4 days of 5 mg oral morphine four times daily (2.5 mg morphine if creatinine > 200 micromol/l). There were 2 days wash-out between active and placebo arms.

Results: 6/10 patients indicated that morphine improved their breathlessness. On morphine, the median breathlessness score fell by 23 mm (P = 0.022) by day 2. The improvement was maintained. Sedation scores increased until day 3 (P = 0.013), reducing on day 4. Four patients developed constipation (P = 0.026). On placebo, there was no significant difference in breathlessness or sedation. One patient had constipation. There were no significant differences in either arm in nausea, quality of life scores, blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, or catecholamines. Brain natriuretic peptide fell in both arms; significantly in the morphine arm.

Conclusion: Morphine relieves breathlessness due to CHF. A larger study is indicated.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Dyspnea / drug therapy*
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Dyspnea / physiopathology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Failure / complications*
  • Heart Failure / diagnosis
  • Heart Failure / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morphine / therapeutic use*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Probability
  • Reference Values
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Morphine