Management of dyspnea in advanced motor neuron diseases

Curr Opin Support Palliat Care. 2008 Sep;2(3):173-9. doi: 10.1097/SPC.0b013e32830c9049.


Purpose of review: Patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or motor neuron disease (ALS/MND) invariably develop respiratory muscle weakness and most die from pulmonary complications. Little evidence is available that identifies optimal management approaches for caring for the dying patient. This review discusses the state of the art on dyspnea in advanced ALS/MND and its treatment.

Recent findings: Multiple observational studies have demonstrated that noninvasive positive pressure ventilation is beneficial in ALS/MND. It is a relatively safe intervention in the late stages of disease with additional survival benefits when it is started relatively early and it can improve survival. Despite guidelines related to pulmonary function testing about the use of noninvasive positive pressure ventilation, the factors, which are most closely associated with noninvasive positive pressure ventilation utilization, are dyspnea and orthopnea.

Summary: In ALS/MND, loss of function relentlessly progresses, and subsequent death occurs mostly in a predictable manner. Therefore, the end of life care is heavily influenced by the type and quality of care provided from the earliest stages. Most patients with ALS/MND develop dyspnea, agitation, anxiety and air hunger in the final phase. Noninvasive positive pressure ventilation has become the standard of care for patients with ALS/MND and advanced respiratory insufficiency. A multidisciplinary approach is strongly recommended.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Dyspnea / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Motor Neuron Disease / complications*
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration / methods*
  • Terminal Care / organization & administration