Introduction: Breathlessness is a subjective sensation, so understanding its impacts requires patients' reports, including prospective patient-defined breathlessness as a reason for presenting to general practitioners (GP).The aim of this study was to define the prevalence of breathlessness as a reason for GP consultations while defining the clinico-demographic factors of these patients and the characteristics and outcomes of those consultations.
Methods: Using nine years of the Family Medicine Research Centre database of 100 consecutive encounters from 1,000 practices annually, the patient-defined reason for encounter 'breathlessness' was explored using prospectively collected data in people ≥ 18 years with clinical data coded using the International Classification for Primary Care V2. Dichotomous variables were analysed using chi square and 95% confidence intervals calculated using Kish's formula for a single stage clustered design.
Results: Of all the 755,729 consultations collected over a nine year period from 1 April, 2000, 7255 included breathlessness as a reason for encounter (0.96%; 95% CI 0.93 to 0.99) most frequently attributed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Only 48.3% of GPs saw someone reporting breathlessness. The proportion of consultations with breathlessness increased with age. Breathlessness trebled the likelihood that the consultation occurred in the community rather than the consulting room (p<0.0001) and increased 2.5 fold the likelihood of urgent referral to hospital (p<0.0001). Of those with breathlessness, 12% had undiagnosed breathlessness at the end of the consultation (873/7255) with higher likelihood of being younger females.
Discussion: Breathlessness is a prevalent symptom in general practitioner. Such prevalence enables future research focused on understanding the temporal pattern of breathlessness and the longitudinal care offered to, and outcomes for these patients, including those who leave the consultation without a diagnosis.