A community population survey of prevalence and severity of dyspnea in adults

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2009 Oct;38(4):533-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2009.01.006.


Given the progress in the symptomatic treatment of breathlessness, and the physical and psychological morbidity associated with chronic breathlessness, estimates of the size of the population that may benefit from better support become imperative. Prevalence estimates have varied widely (0.9% of clinical encounters to 32%) and have largely relied only on respondents who used clinical services. Whole-of-population approaches may be able to define better the "true" prevalence of chronic breathlessness and quantify exertion limited by breathlessness. The aim of this study was to estimate population levels of chronic breathlessness, severity of limits to exercise, and demographic predictors of the presence of breathlessness. A whole-of-population face-to-face survey method (n=8,396) in South Australia was used, directly standardized for age, gender, country of birth, and rurality. Respondents were asked about breathlessness and levels of exertion causing breathlessness for at least three of the last six months using a modified Medical Research Council dyspnea scale. Univariate and multivariate analyses identify the demographic characteristics of people more likely to experience chronic breathlessness. With a participation rate of 65.3%, 8.9% of respondents had breathlessness that chronically limited exertion. Significant associations with chronic breathlessness in multivariate analysis included female sex (P<0.001), not working full time (P<0.001), low income (P=0.007), and older age (P=0.031). There are significant levels of chronic breathlessness in the community. Given the prevalence, it is feasible to explore the onset of breathlessness, the underlying etiologies and subsequent health service utilization, and health consequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Data Collection
  • Dyspnea / diagnosis
  • Dyspnea / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors