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Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life
March 14, 2001

Management of Dyspnea in Patients With Far-Advanced Lung Disease: "Once I Lose It, It's Kind of Hard to Catch It . . . "

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco and San Francisco General Hospital.


Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life Section Editor: Margaret A. Winker, MD, Deputy Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2001;285(10):1331-1337. doi:10.1001/jama.285.10.1331

Dyspnea is a common problem among patients with interstitial fibrosis, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The slow but steady progression of such diseases, often punctuated by acute exacerbations or secondary illnesses, can lead to decision-making dilemmas among patients and their caregivers, such as when to accept mechanical ventilation, when to forgo aggressive therapies, and when to make formal end-of-life care plans. Two cases, a 74-year-old woman with dyspnea secondary to emphysema and a 65-year-old woman with recurrent lung cancer and severe exertional fatigue and dyspnea, illustrate how dyspneic patients approaching the end of life can be evaluated and treated. Four management strategies for dyspnea are discussed: reducing ventilatory impedance, reducing ventilatory demand, improving respiratory muscle function, and altering central perception. Physicians should encourage end-stage lung disease patients and their families to discuss issues such as hospitalization and mechanical ventilation, to prepare advance directives, and to participate in a plan to manage their dyspnea.

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