Nonpharmacological interventions for breathlessness

Curr Opin Support Palliat Care. 2011 Jun;5(2):77-86. doi: 10.1097/SPC.0b013e3283460c93.


Purpose of review: Breathlessness is difficult to palliate and nonpharmacological interventions are effective management strategies currently available for mobile patients. These are a diverse group of interventions, currently poorly defined and inconsistently used. This review concentrates on identifying and recommending the most effective nonpharmacological strategies for breathlessness, to aid clinical practice.

Recent findings: Much of the evidence presented is based on a Cochrane Review, which demonstrated that facial cooling, by handheld fan, mobility aids (e.g. rollators) and neuromuscular electrical stimulation all had evidence to support their use in breathlessness. Breathing exercises, pacing and positioning are frequently used to manage breathlessness, but need definition and further research. Anxiety reduction techniques and carer support are used in chronic disease management and applicable for breathlessness, but act indirectly. Exercise is a long established management strategy in both respiratory and other chronic diseases to maintain fitness (which reduces breathlessness) and increase psychological well being.

Summary: All patients with breathlessness should learn appropriate nonpharmacological interventions. Some can be taught by clinicians without specialist training, but others require specialist skills and high levels of engagement by cognitively intact and highly motivated people. Specialist breathlessness services may be more effective in delivering complex nonpharmacological interventions, but more research is needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Breathing Exercises*
  • Dyspnea / complications
  • Dyspnea / psychology
  • Dyspnea / rehabilitation*
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Posture
  • Walkers*